The NPSL season is now headed to its home stretch with the 4 regional champions having been determined this weekend. The last remaining Golden Gate Conference team is the Sonoma County Sol, one of the most successful teams in NPSL history. They won another Golden Gate Conference regular season title and yet another Western Regional playoff.
The 2016 Golden Gate Conference season was a dramatic one. For most of the season, it appeared that the title would go to either Sacramento Gold or CD Aguiluchos, until the Sol came racing back in the second half of the season. The Stompers also climbed up to clinch a playoff berth in the final moments of the season.
After following the Conference all season and watching every team play on multiple occasions, here is my Conference Best 11 and honorable mentions.
Jonathan Arellano: Real San Jose
Arellano makes the Best 11 for a reason other than stats, as San Jose let in more goals than any other team in the Golden Gate Conference this season. In addition, Arellano picked up an injury late in the season, so he did not play in the games in which San Jose gave up 13 and 8 goals. This selection is all about the eye test. When you see him play, you realize that if not for Arellano, San Jose might have allowed many more goals this season. He has the ability to make highlight real saves in every game. As well, he had a spectacular double digit save game mid season vs. Sonoma County in a game San Jose would just barely loose.
Nicolas Lombardi: Sonoma County Sol Left Back
Lombardi epitomizes an outside back. He can comfortably defend any opponent one on one. In addition, he can get forward and into the attack with pinpoint crosses from the left side, contributing with 5 assists and 1 goal this season. This tally of 5 assists from a defender was the best in the Conference.
Emanuel Vazquez: East Bay FC Stompers Center Back
Vasquez started and played in all 14 regular season games for the Stompers to help earn them their first-ever playoff appearance. The East Bay defense was arguably the best-organized defense. However, there was only one staple in the back all season, keeping the goals against for the Stompers to just 23 for the season. Both of his center back partners could have been considered as well if they had the same level of consistency as Vasquez.
Justin Ferreira: Sonoma County Sol Center Back
Ferreira is the leader of the Sol’s back line, plays center back expertly, and is the organizer in the back. His positional play is close to perfect, and he always seems to be in the perfect spot to clear nearly all crosses, and make his goalie’s job easier. Ferreira started and played in all 14 regular season games, and is a big reason why the Sol is back in the National Semifinal.
Prince Bere: East Bay FC Stompers Right Back
Bere is one of the top players in the Conference, if not the entire league. His pace and ability to take players on one vs. one is second to none in the Conference. As well, his ability to put in inch-perfect crosses with his right foot resulted in 4 assists this season, leading his team in that category even though he missed a few games. Bere played in multiple positions, from right back, to right midfield, to left midfield, and even as a lone center forward. For me, his best position is probably at right back where he can use his pace to make overlapping runs and put crosses into the box. Bere was a 2015 all-NPSL 2nd team performer as a defender last season.
Ricardo Guerra: CD Aguiluchos USA
The unquestioned leader of the Aguiluchos, Guerra epitomizes leadership and what makes a perfect captain at this level. Playing at both the right back and right midfield spots, Guerra is a true winger with his pace and ability to track back, up and down the right flank.
Sammy Gonzales: Sacramento Gold FC
Sammy, along with his brother Nico, are the midfield engines for the Gold. Sammy makes the team over Nico because he played more games this season. Sammy was a big part of the Gold’s initial assent to the top of the Conference. Most of the Gold’s best attacking threats would come through his feat. Sammy had 4 goals and 3 assists from midfield, contributing to the Gold’s attacking threat. He also has the ability to score from just about anywhere.
Ross Middlemiss: CD Aguiluchos USA
My Conference player of the year was Ross Middlemiss. As Ross goes, so do the Aguiluchos. There aren’t many big attacking threats created by Aguiluchos that do not at some point come through the feat of Middlemiss. He is a true #10, playing just behind the striker, and creating most of Aguiluchos’ chances. Although he played as more of a forward all season, the way he plays is that of an attacking midfielder. He contributed with 7 goals and 9 assists this season, playing in just 11 league matches. He was also the 2013 National NPSL player of the year as well as a first team all-NPSL performer in 2015.
Diego Lopez: Sonoma County Sol
Lopez is one of the most dangerous players in the Conference without question. He has the ability to beat almost any player in the league, cutting in off the left wing. Lopez provided 9 goals and 5 assists for the first place team, making him the team leader in both categories. He has also gone on to contribute another 3 goals in the Sol’s playoff run to help the team win the Western Regional championship. Based on potential, Lopez is probably the best prospect the Conference has to offer.
Taylor Varnadore: Sonoma County Sol
Varnadore is a long time player for Sonoma and has the ability to play at both the center back position and the center forward role. He is a tall, strong player who can dominate in the air and who possesses a powerful shot. Varnadore helped marshal the back line for the Conference champs for most of the season. He also filled in up top, scoring 6 goals in the regular season. He has continued to play up top in the playoffs, contributing 3 goals and 2 assists for the Sol in their current playoff run. Varnadore is probably a better forward than defender, so it is quite notable that he was an all-NPSL 2nd team member at defender last season.
Simon Rawnsley: CD Aguiluchos USA
Rawnsley is the best true #9 the Conference has to offer and maybe even the entire league. Rawnsley finished the regular season with 19 goals in the team’s 14 games. He also contributed a goal in both the US Open Cup and the 1st round of the NPSL playoff. He twice earned NPSL player of the week honors in 2016 for a hat trick in Seattle vs. OSA FC and a 5-goal game against San Jose at home. When presented with an opportunity to score, Rawnsley rarely misses the frame. His hold up play is second to none in the Conference, and his runs in the box are near perfect. I call him the Wondolowski of the NPSL because he isn’t flashy, but is almost always in the perfect spot in the box to score. Rawnsley is the defending NPSL Golden Boot winner, and his 19 goals should be good for that award again in 2016.
Honorable Mentions/Second Team 4-4-2
John Connolly, Sacramento Gold FC
Zachary Ulrich, Sacramento Gold FC
Edwin Chavez, CD Aguiluchos USA
Bengy Ruiz, CD Aguiluchos USA
Diego Garcia, East Bay FC Stompers
Nico Spann, Sonoma County Sol
Nico Gonzales, Sacramento Gold
Jesse Kehoe, East Bay FC Stompers
Miguel Santiago, CD Aguiluchos USA
Brenton Frame, Sonoma County Sol
Khalid Arramdani, East Bay FC Stompers