Phoenix Rising re-sign eight starters, Junior Flemmings not among them

Midfielder Jon Bakero (center) is among the Phoenix Rising FC players that re-signed with the club. (Photo by Joe Hicks/Getty Images)

PHOENIX – Phoenix Rising FC announced on Friday it had re-signed eight players from its 2020 Western Conference Championship-winning team, but questions about the 2021 roster remain unanswered.

The re-signed players – all starters – include goalkeeper Zac Lubin, defender Darnell King, midfielders Jon Bakero, Kevon Lambert, Santi Moar and Sam Stanton, and forwards Solomon Asante and Rufat Dadashov.

Team captain Asante, 30, will return in 2021 as the only back-to-back MVP in United Soccer League Championship history.

Asante tallied eight goals and nine assists in 2020, and will look to add to his total of 44 goals and 35 assists for the Rising since joining the club prior to the 2018 season.

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“At Phoenix Rising, we want to win trophies and it’s important to bring back guys that have done it,” Rising coach Rick Schantz said in a conference call on Friday.

Lubin, 31, will provide veteran leadership for the Rising next year as they renew their quest to win their first-ever USL Championship title.

Lubin played a pivotal role in Phoenix’s 2020 conference championship run, saving penalties in both of the club’s penalty kick shootout victories during the playoffs.

“Having Zac come back is massive, figuratively and literally,” Schantz said.

The fate of defender Damion Lowe remains undetermined.

Schantz said he would love to have the Jamaican international back in his lineup in 2021, but added that “we’ve kind of given him the opportunity to look around.”

Defenders Joe Farrell and Corey Whelan also remain unsigned. Their departures could create the greatest need the Rising will have to address as they continue signing players in the offseason.

“Obviously, we’ve got to find some guys on the back line,” Schantz said.

Schantz spoke briefly about the possible permanent departure of forward Junior Flemmings, the Rising player accused on Sept. 30 of directing a homophobic slur at San Diego Loyal midfielder Collin Martin, an openly gay player.

Following the well-publicized incident, the USL suspended Flemmings six games “for the use of foul and abusive language,” effectively ending his 2020 season.

“His contract ended (at the end of the season), and there’s not a whole lot to be said, other than that he’s genius, got lots of opportunity, and I think he’s going to be extremely successful wherever he goes,” Schantz said of Flemmings.

Two young players – products of the Phoenix Rising academy program – have hopes of joining the returning players on the Rising’s 2021 roster.

Goalkeeper Landon Carter signed an academy contract with Phoenix in March, at the age of 16.

Carter “was exceptional this season for us, and he’s still very young,” Schantz said. “Hopefully, we can keep him involved in our system and keep helping him push towards being a big-time pro.”

In July, Ansu Kanneh, 14, became the second youngest player to ever join the USLC when he signed his academy contract with the Rising.

“We think he has a bright future with Phoenix Rising,” Schantz said. “Next year will be interesting because we have more and more players every year that are now in our youth system and getting better and better.”

As the 2021 season approaches, Phoenix Rising fans will look forward to seeing how young, talented players like Carter and Kanneh blend on the field with veterans like Asante and Lubin.

Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Aaron Bradley James expects to graduate in spring 2021 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism. James enjoys covering baseball, football and auto racing and is working to improve his skills in Spanish and Portuguese.