Building a serious contender in the USL Championship starts well before the offseason, when front offices work to retain players from a successful season, or add new pieces to improve a roster.
While Memphis 901 FC bolstered one of the deepest rosters in the league during the offseason, the Bluff City’s soccer club has refined the art of the midseason acquisition to build onto a talented squad looking to make history.
Memphis 901 FC is one of the youngest rosters in the USL Championship with an average age of 24.7 despite veteran presence like Leston Paul, Aaron Molloy and Graham Smith. Since the beginning of the season, the Beale Street Boys have added the likes of Bill Hamid (32), Rodrigo da Costa (29) and Emerson Hyndman (27) along with their impressive resumés to push the club to the next level, shown in the club-record 12 match unbeaten streak in the first half of the season.
“I think if you look through the course of last year, I think we did well, but I think if you look at what we’re doing now, we’re deeper than we were last year,” Assistant Sporting Director Caleb Patterson-Sewell said. “We’ve been able to bring in some proper players into the club in Rodrigo, Emerson and Bill. All those guys come in with huge curriculums. It speaks to what we’re doing in Memphis.”
With the additions especially to the midfield for Memphis, the attack went from good to great as week-in and week-out, strong teams have chased around a team that ranks in the top five of nearly every offensive team statistic so far this season.
Da Costa and Hyndman entered an attacking club with top players like last year’s MVP Runner-Up Aaron Molloy, Jeremy Kelly, Luiz Fernando and young phenom Nighte Pickering to become instant fan favorites as the club vies for a championship in 2023.
Creating Chances and Brazilian Dances…
Memphis 901 FC took an unprecedented route to acquire a key piece in their 2023 campaign. Getting the Brazilian goal creator in a 901 FC jersey suddenly became a possibility when FC Tulsa approached the club with a blockbuster trade.
Memphis completed one of the most high-profile midseason transfers in USL Championship history when they sent their 2022 top goal scorer Phillip Goodrum to FC Tulsa for Rodrigo da Costa and an undisclosed transfer fee.
“We start on the human level. Incredible person,” Patterson-Sewell said. “He fits in well with our club ethos, which is team first, do what’s asked of you. On the field, it’s evident for everyone to see the type of player he is and what he can bring. I think we got a player that can really help us in more ways than one.”
In Rodrigo, Memphis saw a veteran with top-notch finishing, link-up play and movement with the ability to play his teammates in for a score. It’s apparent when you watch him play, but the stats also back it up as da Costa holds the FC Tulsa all-time records for both goals and assists in four years with the club.
That vision for the 901 FC front office has become a reality with three goals and two assists in only nine appearances with the club, with a total of six goals and three assists this season while standing in the top five in the league with 39 chances created.
Da Costa’s quick assimilation into the tight group can be credited to not only to familiarity with Memphis players after several battles in the Eastern Conference over the years, but also an instant camaraderie with multiple fellow Brazilians already on the roster.
The Rio de Janerio native said the front office and players made the tough transition easy for him from getting his family settled into their new home to practicing Brazilian dance celebrations in preparation of the inevitable scoring opportunities that come from this attack.
“I’m really comfortable here. I knew some of the guys before from playing so many years against them,” Da Costa said. “When you come and have Lucas (Turci), (Bruno) Lapa, Luiz (Fernando), the Brazilians that were already in the group, they made me feel really comfortable and help me focus on the game.”
Those dance moves made their debut on June 25 when Lapa served up a breakaway pass to his new teammate, assisting Da Costa as he scored the game-winning goal in the club’s best win in the first half of the season over Charleston Battery on June 25.
“Me and Bruno, we always play after practice and he always sends me videos of people doing Brazilian dances and we said we were only going to celebrate like that when he assists and I score,” he said. “We understand each other and were able to put up the third goal for the victory. That was the perfect combo and it was nice being with him on the field.”
Emerson Hyndman Phones a Friend...
In a growing league with young emerging stars like the USL Championship, it pays to have a bit of top league veteran savvy on the roster. That’s what Memphis 901 FC found when they agreed to have former USMNT and MLS midfielder Emerson Hyndman train with the club after the start of the season.
Hyndman splashed back onto the soccer scene when he signed with Memphis on June 9, returning from time away after parting ways with Atlanta United in January with multiple injuries keeping him off the field.
Hyndman was a regular starter for Head Coach Stephen Glass during his time as the boss at Atlanta United in 2020 and helped the club win the U.S. Open Cup and Campeones Cup in 2019.
Before moving to the MLS, the Dallas, Texas, native had stints with Rangers FC and Hibernian FC of the Scottish Premiership and made appearances with the United States Men’s Senior National Team in 2014.
When seeking out the best setting to return to the pitch, Hyndman reached out to his old coach.
“It says a lot about us as a club that a player like Emerson wants to come be a part of it,” Glass said. “If we didn’t put together a group of players like we did, I don’t think he’d have any interest in coming. He sees what we can offer, he knows what the staff can offer and he wants to be a part of it.”
Emerson fit into the midfield immediately and has been a steady contributor with four starts in seven matches since his signing and two goals to show.
Hyndman flashed his brilliance when he was called into the starting lineup for the first time in Memphis on June 22 and answered the call with a spectacular first time strike from 30 yards out as 901 FC cruised to a 4-0 victory over FC Tulsa.
“The group’s already confident, they’re winning games and on a roll so it makes my life a little bit easier coming in,” Hyndman said before making his debut. “I know Coach Glass already. He knows what kind of levels I’m trying to reach already. I knew about the group just from watching games and I could see it had a lot of potential. It was a group I wanted to join and I’m really happy to be here.”
A return to the field gives Hyndman a chance to show his top league pedigree while Memphis uses his experience for an immediate impact to winning as the team enters the second half of the season.
“For me it’s about taking it step-by-step,” he said. “It’s exciting to play any minutes right now, taking the right steps to get fit and just go from there. I just want to enjoy what I’m doing right now and get back to enjoying the game again. I’m enjoying it a lot and hopefully everything falls into place perfectly.”