The Charlotte Independence's Braden Gritz was named the Golden Ball winner as the Player of the Tournament at the 2023 USL Academy League Playoffs on Sunday. | Photo courtesy Emily Sullivan / United Soccer League
TAMPA, Fla. – USL Academy announced on Sunday the individual award winners at the 2023 USL Academy League Playoffs as the Charlotte Independence’s Braden Gritz claimed the Golden Ball as the Player of the Tournament while leading his side to the title at the Tournament Sportsplex of Tampa Bay.
Gritz scored three goals for his side in its four-game run to the title. The 18-year-old also impressed during the week with his strong work-rate leading the Independence front line. Working regularly as a lone forward, Gritz set up the Independence’s pressing defensive actions while serving as an outlet to hold up possession and allow teammates to join the attack.
“It’s amazing,” said Gritz on the Independence’s title. “Honestly, words can’t describe how great it feels right now. Working the whole season for this, for moments like these, and to get it done – it’s just an amazing feeling.”
Gritz shared the tournament’s Golden Boot with Orange County SC’s Bryce Jamison as both players ended the tournament with three goals. Charlotte’s goalkeepers Jack Ammann and Hever Delgado-Melchor shared the Golden Glove honor, with Orange County SC’s Juan Santana earning an honorable mention for his performances during the week.
AC Connecticut’s Jack Ryan was selected as the Young Player of the Tournament for players born in 2006 or later as the 16-year-old played a key role in midfield to help his side claim third place after victories against Utah Red Wolves SC and New Mexico United in the opening two rounds and a penalty shootout win against San Antonio FC on Sunday.
Charlotte’s Jeff Bilyk was named as the Coach of the Tournament after leading his side to the title. A former player who won the USL A League with the Milwaukee Rampage during his career, Bilyk guided the Independence to a campaign in which the side lost only once in 16 games across the regular season and playoffs. Charlotte also rallied twice in the playoffs to take victories before claiming the title against Orange County SC in extra time on Sunday.
“So amazingly proud of the players, so amazingly proud of all the staff,” said Bilyk. “Everything that we talk about at the Independence, this is just for everybody back at home in Charlotte. Pretty amazing accomplishment by the players today.”
The 2023 USL Academy League Playoffs All-Tournament Teams will be announced in the coming days.