Charleston Battery attacker Fidel Barajas has been named the 2023 USL Championship Young Player of the Year, the league announced Thursday.
The award caps off Barajas’ breakout campaign in his first full season as a professional, having already been selected to the Championship’s All-League Second Team for the 2023 season and currently competing in the FIFA U-17 World Cup for Mexico.
“This whole season, I’ve been focused on getting better, setting up for the World Cup,” said Barajas. “That was what the season was really about. Just being able to win that award with all these amazing talented young men who are also in the league just shows that I have that level in me, that I could do something with it, and I could keep improving every day.”
The 17-year-old led the league in assists (11) across the regular season and playoffs in 2023. Barajas additionally scored five goals and tallied 39 chances created across 32 games (28 starts). He additionally ends the season as an Eastern Conference Title-Winner and USL Championship Finalist.
“Fidel is beyond deserving of this award as it shows his outstanding abilities and performances throughout the season,” said Head Coach Ben Pirmann. “He has had an incredible 2023, between helping the Battery achieve a record-breaking season and the FIFA U-17 World Cup matches. We are so happy for him, his family and his teammates who have battled with him all year long.”
The year for Barajas began with winning the Conacaf U-17 Championship with Mexico, providing five assists and scoring three goals in the tournament, to secure placement in the FIFA U-17 World Cup.
Barajas’ game garnered international recognition and he was named to The Guardian’s Next Generation 2023, which is the British newspaper’s annual report of the top 60 young soccer players across the globe.
Barajas inscribed his name into the club and league record books throughout 2023.
At 16 years, 11 months and 20 days old, Barajas became the youngest goalscorer in club history when he scored his first career professional goal on March 25 against Tampa Bay. His 11 assists matched a single-season club record that has been standing for 23 years in Temoc Suarez’s tally of 11 in 2000.
With a two-assist game on July 22 against Pittsburgh, Barajas became the fourth-youngest player in USL Championship history to achieve the feat. He was also the ninth-youngest player in league history to notch a two-goal game, which he did on Sept. 22 against Tulsa.
Barajas was named to the league’s Team of the Week three times in 2023 and was a nominee for March Player of the Month.
He is the first Battery player to win the award since 2012 when Jose Cuevas took home the honor.
Barajas received 58% of the ballot to earn the award, edging out San Antonio FC’s Rida Zouhir and Phoenix Rising FC’s Rocco Rios Novo. The 2023 USL Championship Awards were voted on by club management and a league-wide media panel that included representation from every USL market.