Photo via Tampa Bay Rowdies/Matt May

After a sterling 2020 season for the Tampa Bay Rowdies, center back Forrest Lasso has been named as the USL Championship’s Defender of the Year.

The award is determined by technical staffs and team executives from across the league, as well as media representatives from each USL market. Lasso, 27, won with 40 percent of the vote and is the first player to ever win the award twice. He also won in 2018 while heping FC Cincinnati completely dominate in the regular season that year.

Lasso posted the following statement online after the league’s announcement:

“These past 24 months have been quite the journey. I celebrated the highs and flirted with lows but never lost faith in myself. I want to thank Mr. Cohen, Neill, and my teammates for undoubtedly believing in me, supporting my growth, and for truly allowing me to be me! This award is for us — the believers! And to everyone else who told me no, I wasn’t good enough, or whatever words you felt fit — I appreciate y’all. Best part bout it is — we still just getting started.”

As tough as it might be to single out just one player for a Rowdies defense that conceded just 11 goals in 16 regular season games, Lasso is more than worthy of the distinction. Rowdies Head Coach Neill Collins completely rebuilt the club’s back line last offseason, bringing in Lasso to be the central anchor and Aaron Guillen and Jordan Scarlett to fill out therest of the three-man defensive line. Working together, Tampa Bay’s back line allowed a league-best 39 total shots on goal during the regular season. That’s an average of just 2.44 shots on goal per game.

A few weeks ago, Lasso was also named to the USL’s All-League First Team for his performance in the regular season. He’s only the second player to earn a spot on the league’s First Team four times, but he’s the first to do it with four different clubs. Lasso led the league with 86 clearances, while also winning 77.8 percent of his tackles and 66. 3 percent of his aerial duels. The 6-foot-6 defender also made his presence felt in the attacking third, recording three goals and one assist to help the Rowdies become one of the most deadly set piece teams in the league.

Lasso’s value also carried over into the postseason. The Rowdies defense played to near perfection in the Eastern Conference Semfinal and Final thanks in large part to Lasso. They managed to shut out the Charleston Battery at Al Lang in the Conference Semifinal and would have blanked Louisville City FC as well in the Conference Final if not for an unfortunate own goal.

The Rowdies may have fallen short of their ultimate goal of attaining the USL Championship title,but Lasso and this entire squad set a new standard on defense. This year’s squad, without question, is the best defense the Rowdies have ever fielded. If they can sustain the foundation set this year and build on it, the Rowdies have a good chance to be title contenders next year and for years to come.

Photo by Matt May/Tampa Bay Rowdies

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