Reno 1868 FC plays Phoenix Rising on Saturday with a berth in the Western Conference finals on the line, a place Northern Nevada's soccer club has yet to reach in its first three seasons.
But this is the best iteration of Reno 1868 FC to date. Yes, the first three teams in franchise history reached the playoffs, but this year's team did so while earning the top seed in the USL and with more balance on offense and a strong defense.
So who has been Reno 1868 FC's MVP this season? It's a question we posed to coach Ian Russell, and he didn't have an answer.
"This is the first year I could probably just say I don't have any idea who our MVP is," Russell said. "The other three years there was Brian Brown scoring 18 goals or Dane Kelly or Antoine (Hoppenot) or a lot of guys who have had outstanding years. There are a lot of guys this year that have had great years on a great team, so it's hard to pick. I was just talking to my assistant coach about that and there are five or six guys who are worthy of that recognition. But there's nobody who really is like, 'I am the MVP.' What you're seeing is a true team."
Here are some of the candidates for Reno 1868 FC MVP:
* Foster Langsdorf: The Stanford alum has scored a team-best 11 goals, which ranks tied for third in the USL. That's a scoring pace of 23 goals over a full season (the team record is 18).
* Christiano Francois: A native of Haiti, Francois ranks third on Reno 1868 FC in goals (six) and first in assists (eight), which is tied for second in the USL, one behind the leader.
* Corey Hertzog: The USL veteran led Reno with 18 goals in 2019 and has tallied seven this season (13th in the USL) with four assists, second on the team. He's a key to Reno's offensive attack.
* Kevin Partida: The Sparks native does not have huge stats with three goals and one assist, but he's a hugely important piece in the midfield along with Sergio Rivas.
* Brent Richards: The longest-tenured Reno 1868 FC player (and Alex Margulies' pick for MVP), Richards has four goals, two assists and plays a large leadership role.
Reno has scored a USL-high 47 goals this season, and the MVP has to come from the quintet above. The tricky part is figuring out who is most deserving.
"We've got Foster, who has scored a bunch of goals," Russell said. "Cristiano Francois is almost leading the league in assists. Corey Hertzog does an amazing job of leading our press. Sam Gleadle has done an excellent job in the backline. Kevin Partida and Sergio have been one of the best midfield tandems in the league. Tucker Bone has really come on. There are so many guys that have really stepped up and done well. If I were to pick one, I don't think I can. Usually I have, 'This is the guy,' but I think the team is just strong throughout."
Hertzog, who was last season's team MVP, said the depth of quality talent on the roster has released some pressure off him in the playoffs.
"I don't think I've ever played on a team where there are this many guys who have so many goals and game-winning goals and big moments," Hertzog said. "I think that's what makes this team a lot of different from other teams I've been on where we lost in the playoffs or didn't make the postseason because we were expecting one guy to do it all."
(And while nobody asked me, I'd give the MVP award to Francois by a smidge.)