GOLDEN BOOT RACE: ONE GOAL, 2,000 MILES SEPARATE THE NPSL’S TOP TWO GOALSCORERS
Amani Walker and Rafa Mentzingen don’t have much in common. Walker is a 27-year-old San Diego native who has played professionally and now plays as a striker for Albion SC Pros. Mentzingen is a 20-year-old who hails from Rio De Janiero, Brazil, has just finished his sophomore year in college, and holds down the midfield for Lansing United. Despite the differences the two players have one thing in common: scoring goals.
First is Walker, who recently overtook Mentzingen for first in the NPSL in goals with his tenth of the season. Walker, a native of San Diego who has spent time with both Chicago Fire and Tampa Bay Rowdies, has led Albion SC Pros from the front over their recent run of excellent form. The San Diego-based club have won five of seven, losing only one and most recently, earning an impressive draw against FC Arizona, where Walker’s second-half goal equalized for Albion.
Walker has been a big part of Albion’s resurgence out west, as he’s scored an incredible nine of his ten goals over Albion’s last four games. For Walker, his contribution to the team is simple: he puts his team on the scoreboard.
“It’s easy, as a goal-scorer, if I score goals we’re going to have a chance win. If I’m doing what I’m supposed to do, creating chances or converting them, that’s going to energize our whole team.”
And the formula is proving true, as Walker’s outburst of scoring came in a three game win streak for Albion, with the forward scoring eight goals during those three games.
Albion SC Head Coach Ziggy Korytoski has high-praise for his forward following Albion’s 4-1 defeat of City of Angels FC, where Walker scored a hat trick.
“Amani had another monster performance and is clearly putting himself in position for the NPSL Player of the Year. He continues to produce day in and day out. He’s definitely worked hard to prepare himself for a return to the next level.”
While a return to the next level looks to be clearly in Walker’s future, for now, the forward is enjoying his chance to play in the NPSL and in his hometown.
“I was born and raised here in San Diego and it’s great to get to play at home for the first time in a setting like this. And the league is a good league, there’s a lot of strong teams…I see the growth and I see the potential in the NPSL.”
From here, Walker wants to fully recover from the squad’s slow start and make the playoffs, and once there eventually wants to win the final.
As far as prolific goal-scorers go, there might not be a better one than the league’s second highest scorer: Lansing United’s Rafa Mentzingen. The Brazilian midfielder has dazzled both fans and media alike in his first six games, where Mentzingen has found the back of the net nine times (good for an incredible 1.5 goals per game for those keeping track at home).
Considering his position as a midfielder, Mentzingen himself seemed slightly surprised by his incredible scoring output.
“It’s kind of unexpected,” Mentzingen said of his huge scoring output, but he doesn’t feel any added pressure from being near the top of the league in goals. “I’m always looking to score, it doesn’t really add any pressure.”
And Mentzingen’s performances reflect that mindset, as the midfielder has scored in all six of his appearances and has recorded a brace in three of them, including Lansing’s most recent match, a 4-2 victory over Grand Rapids FC, where he scored in both halves, including what would eventually turn out to be the game-winning goal in the 68th minute.
Mentzingen’s impact on the team cannot be understated, and Lansing United Head Coach Nate Miller described the midfielder’s impact.
“Rafa is an electrifying player. His 1v1 ability to second to none and has been clinical in front of goal.” Miller went on to praise Mentzingen’s work rate and team-oriented mentality, describing his future success as “immense.”
While scoring goals is part of his game, Mentzingen is focused on the team first and foremost. “My main goal is to get to the playoffs. It’s way beyond scoring goals…I just want to keep scoring and keep working hard on defense.”
So far Mentzingen’s performance has helped lead Lansing United to a blistering 6-1-0 start, good enough for 18 points and second place in the Great Lakes Conference.
While the two players are 2,000 miles apart in distance, seven in age and hail from two different countries, one common thread times them together: an innate ability to score goals.