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Back-to-back MVP Asante, 7 others returning for Phoenix Rising in 2021

Phoenix Rising FC captain and forward Solomon Asante. (Arizona Sports/Ashley Orellana)

Phoenix Rising FC announced on Friday that eight players will be returning for the 2021 USL Championship season.

Forward and captain Solomon Asante — the only player in USLC history to be a back-to-back MVP and Assist Champion — will be coming back for his fourth season in a Phoenix Rising kit.

Asante will be joined by other longtime tenured PRFC players in goalkeeper Zac Lubin and midfielder Kevon Lambert, who have all been with the club since 2018.

Fullback Darnell King, midfielders Jon Bakero and Sam Stanton, and forwards Santi Moar and Rufat Dadashov round out the rest of the core of Rising’s returning players from its 2020 Western Conference championship campaign.

“(GM) Bobby [Dulle] and I talk 4-5 times a day to be honest. We’re always talking about players and what their contracts are like, next year or the year after,” PRFC manager Rick Schantz said of the re-signing process via Zoom on Friday. “For example, a guy like Kevon Lambert 2-3 years ago — the idea was get him on a three-year deal or more at the time.

“And then you just start thinking if you have a particular player at a spot on a long-term deal, you start focusing on other areas. … What we try to do is make sure we have a good strong core at the end of the season going into the next and then I hit the road and go see if I can find some more players that will help us win championships.”

Conversely, the announcement of eight players returning means that 14 players are either departing the club or have yet to re-sign:

Goalkeeper: Eric Dick (loan expired)

Fullbacks: Kyle Bjornethun, Joey Calistri and Owusu-Asnah Kontoh

Center backs: Joe Farrell, Austin Ledbetter, Damion Lowe, A.J. Cochran and Corey Whelan

Midfielders: Jose Aguinaga, Jack Barmby and Jordan Schweitzer

Forwards: Junior Flemmings and Lagos Kunga (loan expired)

Schantz said that there may be one or two more players that are still in contract discussions, including that Farrell — the only member of the 2018 core-four yet to re-sign — could do exactly that “within the hour.”

“We had this process done a little sooner because of COVID and because of all the things,” Schantz added. “So we were able to talk with all the players and we knew who was coming back and who wasn’t a little while ago, so there’s not going to be a whole lot of surprise.”

And when it came to defenders Lowe and Whelan, the manager said that the club was giving each player an opportunity to play at a higher level elsewhere.

“We’ve kind of given [Lowe] the opportunity to look around,” Schantz said. “And speaking with Damion, he said that if he comes back to the U.S. and USL, he said he wants to be in Phoenix.

“When you have a player that’s unbelievably professional such as Corey that might’ve been homesick but continued to play as well as he did, I think it was right by the club to give him an opportunity to kind of go back home.”

When asked if the decision to not re-sign Flemmings was mutual or made by the team, the manager said that it was just a matter of finances.

“His contract ended and there’s not a whole lot to be said other than that really,” Schantz said. “Junior has lots of opportunities and I think he’s going to be extremely successful wherever he goes. You have to understand, with our team and our club, we have to be intelligent about how we spend money on players.

“If you just wanted to continue to spend outrageous numbers on one, two or three or four players — at some point, you don’t have the depth we’ve been fortunate to have over the last couple of years. … We have to be smart about how we spend our money and that’s something I think Bobby and myself do well.”

The Jamaican international sent his regards via Twitter to what will be his former club when his contract expires on Nov. 30.

Phoenix Rising’s current roster ahead of the 2021 USLC campaign:

Goalkeeper: Zac Lubin

Fullbacks: Darnell King

Center backs: none

Midfielders: Jon Bakero, Kevon Lambert, Sam Stanton

Forwards: Solomon Asante, Rufat Dadashov and Santi Moar