TAMPA, Fla. – Since he first earned USL Championship All-League first team selection in 2017, Forrest Lasso has established himself as one of the top center backs in the league.
Over the past five seasons, the 28-year-old has recorded more clearances than any player, won more aerial duels than any other defender, and ranks third in blocked shots while posting a duel success rate of 67.7 percent.
On Wednesday, Lasso was named the 2021 USL Championship Defender of the Year after another standout season that saw him fill the central pillar of a three-man back line that helped the Tampa Bay Rowdies record the best defensive record in the Championship’s regular season and earn a place in the 2021 USL Championship Final on Sunday night against Orange County SC at Al Lang Stadium (8:30 p.m. ET | ESPN | ESPN Deportes | SiriusXM FC).
Lasso earned the award for a second consecutive season, and for the third time in the past four years, as he continued to be the standard against whom others are measured in the Championship. The honor added to his five consecutive Championship All-League first team selections, an all-time high for an individual player in league history.
And yet, the evolution that Lasso has undergone as a player since joining the Rowdies has made him in his eyes a fundamentally player than he was when he earned his first award for FC Cincinnati in 2018.
“Since 2018 there’s been a handful of things in my career individually that in a way forced me to refocus or humbled me,” said Lasso. “2019 was a pretty special year, but it allowed me to take a step back and re-motivate and re-commit myself to my craft. I think there’s a handful of things that – I mean, I’m by no means perfect now – but there’s parts of my game that I needed to perfect.
“With [head coach] Neill [Collins’] help, [assistant coaches] Kevin Foley and Chad Burt and the entire staff, [Rowdies President] Lee Cohen’s guidance, my teammates, they’ve really pushed me to be the best player and person I can be. Without them I definitely wouldn’t be standing here with this award, that’s for sure. I’ve got to give them a huge amount of thanks.”
Lasso led the league with 154 clearances in the 2021 regular season as he started every game of the campaign, missing only 66 minutes of action. He also led the league with 132 aerial duels won at a success rate of 73.3 percent while maintaining a duel success rate of 67.7 percent and recording 26 blocked shots. The consistency he brings on top of his defensive quality day-in and day-out to Tampa Bay is an attribute that Head Coach Neill Collins – a former center back himself – values highly.
“Forrest’s consistency is his greatest asset. His consistency as a person. He’s never too high, never too low,” said Collins. “Awards like this are fantastic but they don’t affect him because he’s a team guy. He’s all about trying to achieve results for the team. But he should take a lot of credit for the individual accolades that he’s picked up because the consistency to stay fit and the consistency of his performances, but then just as good defenders do, he just gets better as he gets older because he’s able to read the game and then use some of his physical attributes to great effect. You see plenty of guys with the same physical attributes that can’t use them as effectively and that’s because Forrest is an intelligent player.”
Lasso will be one of the central figures on Sunday night as the Rowdies try to claim their first USL Championship title, a result should it come to pass that would provide a perfect end to an outstanding season for him and the club.
“My journey and everything I’ve been through to be a three-time Defender of the Year, it’s surreal,” he said. “I honestly don’t have words to describe it. To be the Defender of the Year comes with having great guys around you. It doesn’t matter if it’s the goalkeeper, the outside backs, the center mids, guys on the reserves, it really doesn’t matter. To be able to win this award, I just have to thank everyone that helped me get here.”
Lasso received 55 percent of the vote to earn the award, while Miami FC’s Paco Craig finished second on 24 percent and Louisville City FC’s Jonathan Gomez finished third on 22 percent.
The 2021 USL Championship Awards were voted on by team technical staffs and executives and a league-wide media panel that included representation from every USL Championship market. Voting was conducted following the conclusion of the 2021 Championship regular season.
2021 USL Championship Awards
Goalkeeper of the Year: Evan Louro, Tampa Bay Rowdies
Defender of the Year: Forrest Lasso, Tampa Bay Rowdies
Coach of the Year: November 27
Young Player of the Year: November 30
Most Valuable Player: December 1
USL Championship Defender of the Year
2011: Rob Valentino, Orlando City SC
2012: Troy Roberts, Rochester Rhinos
2013: Colin Falvey, Charleston Battery
2014: Nemanja Vukovic, Sacramento Republic FC
2015: Bryan Burke, Louisville City FC
2016: Aaron Long, New York Red Bulls II
2017: Sebastien Ibeagha, San Antonio FC
2018: Forrest Lasso, FC Cincinnati
2019: Joe Greenspan, Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC
2020: Forrest Lasso, Tampa Bay Rowdies