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Noah Billingsley joins Phoenix Rising on loan from Minnesota United

Phoenix Rising FC defender Noah Billingsley plays a preseason match against MLS side Real Salt Lake in Tucson on April 7, 2021. (Owain Evans Photo)

Phoenix Rising FC announced the signing of defender Noah Billingsley on loan from MLS side Minnesota United FC on Tuesday.

The 23-year-old New Zealand international joins fellow Kiwis in center back James Musa and left back Deklyn Wynne and has played in PRFC’s last two preseason matches under the alias “Trialist 12.”

“It’s strange coming from such a small country and having two other guys from Wellington (New Zealand) here already,” Billingsley said in a press release. “We get along great with everyone. James and Deklyn are great guys. Having them here to settle me in has been fantastic.”

Billingsley received praise from manager Rick Schantz in last Wednesday’s 1-0 loss to MLS side Real Salt Lake in the 2021 Visit Tucson Sun Cup.

He came off after 20 minutes out of an abundance of caution for injury during Phoenix’s 1-0 loss to Colorado Rapids. However, the 6-foot-2, 185-pounder caused havoc down the right side early on in the match as he linked up with right winger Solomon Asante on overlapping runs.

After being selected No. 18 overall by Minnesota United in the 2020 MLS SuperDraft, Billingsley joined Las Vegas Lights FC on loan for the remainder of the USL Championship season. He then went on to finish second on the team in tackles despite playing in only nine of the club’s 16 matches (56.25%) before returning to the Loons to make his MLS debut on Nov. 8.

“When I learned I was going to Phoenix Rising, I was ecstatic,” Billingsley said. “It’s such a good club with a rich history. I knew the football would be great because I played against Phoenix three times last year and got smashed every time.”

It’s becoming more and more evident which traits Schantz is looking for in his fullbacks: physicality, size, strength, pace and a history of playing forward (Joey Calistri, Darnell King, Ryan Flood).

“I’m quite physical,” Billingsley said. “I like to run a lot and work hard. I played striker my whole career and then transitioned to right back my senior year at UC Santa Barbara. I was drafted as a right back, but I still have some things to learn on the defensive side. I do feel that it helps that I’ve played striker as well.”

And after seeing Rapids loanee Jeremy Kelly play in the midfield the last two preseason matches against MLS competition, the 2019 Manager of the Year may have the flexibility to be “two-deep” at every position despite only having 22 players, three of which are goalkeepers.

That’s because starting No. 6 Kevon Lambert can platoon at center back if needed because the likes of Aodhan Quinn and Kelly can fill the two midfield roles behind Bakero.

However, with the transfer window extending to June this season and Schantz’s history of having four true center backs, I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of another signing — especially if Rising makes a run in the U.S. Open Cup, which the Phoenix manager hopes to play “at least four games” in. PRFC is already in the USOC’s Round of 16, which means a fourth match in the competition would be the Final.

The signing is the third MLS loanee on the roster and gives Phoenix Rising 22 players signed to its squad ahead of the 2021 USLC campaign — not including academy contracts — which begins on April 30 against San Diego Loyal SC at Wild Horse Pass:

Goalkeepers: Zac Lubin, Andre Rawls (loan) and Edward Delgado

Fullbacks: Darnell King, Joey Calistri, Deklan Wynne, Ryan Flood and Noah Billingsley (loan)

Center backs: Joey Farrell, Tobi Adewole and James Musa

Midfielders: Jon Bakero, Kevon Lambert, Aodhan Quinn, Arturo Rodriguez and Jeremy Kelly (loan)

Forwards: Solomon Asante, Rufat Dadashov, Santi Moar, Ivan Gutierrez, Prince Saydee and Seyi Adekoya