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Four Penn Staters To Take Part In United Soccer League Playoffs

Although Penn State isn’t known as a typical soccer powerhouse, some Nittany Lions sporadically produce professional talent.

In fact, a number of Penn State soccer alumni have found their way to the United Soccer League (USL), an American League just below Major League Soccer (MLS) in terms of talent.

The USL wrapped up its regular season this week. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the 35 clubs were put into eight geographical groups to reduce travel. The top two of each group have qualified for the 16-team, single-elimination playoff, which will begin on Saturday, October 10.

Four Penn State alumni have qualified for the USL postseason, while others had promising seasons that could lead to a more lucrative MLS deal in coming years.

If you’re a Nittany Lions soccer fan, here is who to follow in the lead up to the USL Championship match on November 1.

Corey Hertzog — Reno 1868 FC

Hertzog has been a bright spot for an even brighter team in 2020. The Reading native has bagged five goals and three assists in 16 matches this season, good for third on the team.

Hertzog contributed to Reno topping Group A by a landslide. The Nevada-based club earned an 11-2-3 record and first place in the Western Conference playoff picture. Hertzog is a penciled-in starter, having started every match of the regular season.

The three-year Penn State striker left Happy Valley in 2010. Since then, Hertzog has had one of the more successful professional career of any Nittany Lion men’s soccer player, having played for three MLS teams — New York Red Bulls, Vancouver Whitecaps, and Orlando City SC.

Reno 1868 FC begin their playoff campaign on Saturday, October 10 against eighth-seeded LA Galaxy II and the match will be streamed on ESPN+.

Connor Maloney — San Antonio FC

25-year-old Maloney enjoyed a breakout season during the shortened 2020 campaign.

The Harrisburg homegrown player was drafted by the Columbus Crew in 2017 after spending four seasons with Penn State. Maloney struggled to make an impact in his three seasons in Columbus, becoming only a rotation player in the fall of last year when the Crew’s playoff chances were obsolete.

Maloney made the move to San Antonio and has instantly become a star down south. He played in all but one game this season as a right back or right winger and was never subbed off in the regular season.

San Antonio FC won Group D and will face off against New Mexico United in the first round. The match will also take place on Saturday on ESPN+.

Noah Pilato — Greenville Triumph SC

Noah Pilato is one of three current professionals from the 2018 class, the most in recent memory. Currently, it seems his club is the most successful of the three.

Pilato is in his first year in South Carolina with Greenville Triumph SC. Triumph play in the USL League One, which is one step below the Championship. Nonetheless, Pilato has made an instant impact, starting each match so far as a center defensive midfielder.

USL League One won’t finish its regular season until October 24 when the top two clubs face off in the final. Luckily for Pilato, Greenville has already clinched one of the top two places with three matches remaining.

Pilato has two goals in 13 matches in 2020.

Matt Bersano — Potential Reno 1868 Move

It is unlikely that goalkeeper Matt Bersano will play for Reno in the playoffs. However, the one-year Nittany Lion could be loaned out for the postseason from MLS parent club San Jose Earthquakes.

Bersano has spent most of his career in MLS-USL purgatory. The Chandler, Arizona native hasn’t been able to take over as the top choice ‘keeper in Bay Area, making the bench six times in 2020 but never starting.

Bersano has typically spent time on loan at Reno, which is an affiliate to the Earthquakes. There is still a possibility that Bersano joins fellow Nittany Lion Hertzog in their playoff run.

Other Notable Nittany Lions

These players didn’t make the postseason, but some still had strong years.

  • Aaron Molloy, arguably the best men’s soccer player to emerge from Happy Valley in the past decade, played in his first professional season for Portland Timbers 2. The “Irish Messi” was a consistent starter, scoring one goal and earning one assist in 15 matches for “T2.” Molloy proved his worth in the Pacific Northwest, although he didn’t have the strongest team. T2 finished their season with an abysmal 3-12-0 record, placing last in Group A. Molloy is a contender to make the jump to the first team in 2021.
  • 2016 Penn State graduate Brian James was a key piece for Miami FC this season. The Boca Raton native controlled the midfield for his hometown club, appearing in 12 matches for the squad. Miami FC missed out on the playoffs after finishing third in Group H, a healthy 14 points back from Charleston Battery in second.
  • Jeremy Rafanello was a rotation player for Indy Eleven. Rafanello played in nine matches, commonly coming on a second-half substitute. Traditionally a striker, Rafanello was used at most attacking positions for the Indianapolis-based squad, scoring once. Rafanello left Penn State early after the 2018 season, joining Danish third-tier club FC Helsingor. Rafanello never made an appearance in Europe and ultimately returned stateside to join Indy Eleven last spring.
  • The last of the class of 2018, Ethan Beckford, was on the Toronto FC II roster in USL League One. Due to coronavirus, the Canadians canceled their season due to international travel, leaving Beckford without playing time in 2020.

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About the Author

Otis Lyons

Otis is a sophomore majoring in print journalism. He lives just outside of San Francisco, and is a diehard San Jose Earthquakes fan. Unfortunately, that means a lot of sadness. Feel free to send over your soccer hot takes to his twitter @otisnlyons1 and instagram @otislyons

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