Photo courtesy of Phoenix Rising FC.
As expected, it didn’t take Phoenix Rising long to get back into the swing of things after falling to the Real Monarchs in the second round of the USL Championship Playoffs. On Thursday, less than a week after that November 1st loss, the club made their first official roster move of the offseason, bringing back 11 players, including Adam Jahn, Solomon Asante, Junior Flemmings, and Kevon Lambert, for 2020 season. In addition to those four names, José Aguianga, Joey Calistri, Kyle Bjornethun, Austin Ledbetter, Corey Whelan, AJ Cochran, and Zac Lubin were named in the same announcement.
There has been speculation that any player missing from Thursday’s initial roster release will not be back in 2020. According to multiple sources within the club, that speculation is misguided: though not many more players are likely to return, it is still possible that one or two members of the 2019 roster who were not listed on the initial release could return for 2020.
While it’s difficult to speculate who else may be back next season, it’s easier to pair down the list of players who won’t return for this upcoming season. Alessandro Riggi, Mustapha Dumbuya, and James Musa have already released personal statements saying that they will not be back in Phoenix for 2020. Per a club source, Amadou Dia generated MLS interest during the regular season and is currently exploring options to sign for an MLS team. Jon Bakero, who played with Phoenix Rising on loan from Toronto FC, is still under contract with his MLS team, so his future in the valley is understandably uncertain. Could Bakero end up returning to Phoenix at some point in the future? Absolutely. But it’s going to take some time for Toronto to sort out their plans for him.
Regardless of whether or not some subset of the remnant of Phoenix Rising’s unsigned roster from last season (Carl Woszczynski, Joey Farrell, Doueugui Mala, Jason Johnson, and Ben Spencer) return next season, the fact that Phoenix has been able to retain such a high percentage of their main contributors is an impressive feat. And it didn’t just happen by accident.
Last offseason, and during the regular season as well, Phoenix Rising signed a number of players to two-year contracts, which gave the club a nearly unparalleled level of control (at least in the USL landscape) over their roster on a year-to-year basis. Per a source, Adam Jahn and Corey Whelan are two of the players who were signed on two-year deals, the longest contract that teams can give players in the USL.
Like Dia, Jahn has generated MLS interest and would be a valuable addition to a number of MLS teams as a depth forward. Whelan, who came in mid-season and locked down the starting right center back spot next to AJ Cochran, also has the skill to move up to a higher level at some point in the future. By signing Jahn and Whelan to multi-season contracts that run through the end of 2020, Phoenix ensured that they would be able to hold on to two of their most valuable assets for more than just 12 months. Though specific contract lengths for Phoenix’s other players are not known, it can be inferred that a number of players back from 2019 were signed to two-year deals or a one-year deal with a team option for the following season.
Theoretically, using a longer contract structure puts Phoenix Rising as a legitimate seller in the transfer market. Though the club is is not likely to sell Jahn or Whelan, there is certainly potential for future transfer dealings with players who are under contract for more than one year, allowing them the opportunity to move from Phoenix to another before hitting free agency.
Expect a number of Phoenix Rising’s new signings this offseason (who could start being announced right around the beginning of December) to be brought in on similarly-structured contracts, giving both the club and its players an added level of security.