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From Ghana to Rising: Friendship of Asante, Awako helps play on field

Solomon Asante (left) and Gladson Awako have been playing together since 2011 before both joined the Phoenix Rising. (Josh Martinez/Cronkite News)

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — For midfielders Solomon Asante and Galdson Awako, a relationship and friendship stretch back to before their time with Phoenix Rising.

Both players are from Ghana, both have played together since 2011 and on three different teams, starting with Berekum Chelsea in Ghana. The playing history they have shared not only affects what they do on the field, but it also permeates off it.

“Off the field, I know they spend a lot of time together,” Phoenix Rising interim coach Rick Schantz said. “They’re always looking for Ghanaian food and cooking together.”

The journey hasn’t been fruitless. Asante said the two have found a few restaurants that have Ghanaian food.

“It’s not the same because it’s different from Ghana but it’s still good,” Asante said with a smile.

But food isn’t the only common ground the two share. Awako said on days off, it is not uncommon to find him and Asante at the pool together or at each other’s apartments.

In fact, Awako said the two like to play games and can get competitive, although he said he usually beats Asante at whatever they’re playing.

“Solo (Asante) is not bad, he’s good but I’ve been playing more times so I think I’m almost on top,” Awako said.

With a strong friendship away from the field, Awako said he believes that friendship plays a strong role with what the two are able to do on the field.

“We know each other,” Asante said. “When he gets the ball, he knows where I’ll go and when I get the ball, I also know his movement. It makes the games a bit easier for me.”

In several recent matches, forward Chris Cortez has played in the center position with Jason Johnson and Asante to each of his sides. Asante has been on the right side.

Behind those three sits Awako in the attacking midfield position and behind him are the rest of the midfielders.

This positioning has Awako in position to feed Asante the ball, along with the other forwards. Awako and Asante have worked together in this way for a long time, and Schantz said it makes them more comfortable on the field.

“It’s almost like they know where they’re going to be before they look up,” Schantz said. “Their passing, their movement, their communication. It’s very strong.”

Aside from their relationship with each other, Schantz said they’re both good leaders on the team but they also carry a level of humility and selflessness.

Once before a match, Asante was speaking to the team and told them, “We’re going to make the coaches great,” Schantz said. This isn’t an attribute only contained to Asante, Schantz said, as Awako demonstrates his humility and selflessness too as both “raise the level of the team.”

Cortez referred to the duo as “awesome guys,” who use their familiarity against opponents.

This run with Phoenix Rising is the farthest from Ghana both players have been in their soccer careers. Asante has been with the team only this season and Awako joined last year.

Even though it’s part of his job, Awako said it’s not always easy playing far from friends and families. Having some familiarity does help.

“It makes things easier for us,” Awako said. “You don’t have your families close but we are close to each other.”

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