Phoenix Rising signs 16-year-old defender Niall Dunn to pro contract
Phoenix Rising signed 16-year-old defender and Arizona native Niall Dunn to a professional contract on Thursday.
The signing marks the youngest player in PRFC history to sign a pro contract with the club.
He had previously signed a USL Academy contract with Phoenix back in April, the seventh youth player to sign such a contract with Rising.
Dunn also marks the third Valley native to join Phoenix Rising this season after left back Ryan Flood signed from FC Arizona and Tate Schmitt was loaned from MLS side Real Salt Lake.
Coincidentally enough, all three are defenders, which follows in the footsteps of manager and Tucson native Rick Schantz, who was a defender back in his playing days.
“I’ve always believed Arizona was loaded with talented players. It has been a hidden gem for a number of reasons, but number one was we never had a high-level professional club,” Schantz said in a press release. “There’s a long list of players that have played for the national team or for professional teams and done very well.
“Now, for players to be recognized at a much earlier age and potentially play professionally here in their hometown, I hope we’re creating more dreams and goals for young kids. That’s what it’s all about. They have to aspire to do something. We hope playing for Phoenix Rising becomes one of them.”
Dunn can play a variety of positions — including as a holding No. 6 midfielder or right back — but his best spot is at center back.
The 16-year-old saw playing time with Phoenix Rising during the preseason against both MLS and USL League One teams.
In both the matches against Colorado Rapids in Tucson and vs. FC Tucson at Wild Horse Pass, the defender held his own and was a notable presence on the pitch for PRFC defensively.
“Coming in and training every day with the pro team and getting games with the academy, I was able to gain confidence and feel like I belonged,” Dunn said in the release.
“Towards the end of preseason, after I had played a few games against MLS teams, everyone became more accepting of me. That is when I knew this was the right place for me. That I’d be able to adapt to the professional level.”
From a distance, one would not know that he had just received his driver’s license in March based purely on his ability as a footballer.
Dunn will turn 17 in October and currently stands at 6-foot, 150 pounds.
And much like midfielder Arturo Rodriguez’s workout regimen this season, Schantz has already made it a point to the teenager about getting into the gym in order to compete at the professional level physically as he continues to grow into his body.
“As soon as he signed the academy contract, he sat down with our strength and conditioning coach Sean Buckley,” Schantz said.
“Niall’s working hard to be the best he can be. He is learning from guys like Solo [Asante], Joe [Farrell] and [Kevon] Lambert, listening to the coaches and watching film — everything he can do to become a pro.”
In addition to getting minutes with the first team in 2021, Dunn hopes to be able to crack the United States Men’s National Team as a 21-year-old when the 2026 World Cup is hosted by the U.S., Mexico and Canada.
“This is only the second step,” Schantz said. “He knows he has a long way to go but I hope to one day see him competing for the U.S. National Team.”