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Within days of Phoenix Rising realizing that it needed to bring on another midfielder, Irakoze “Koze” Donasiyano was called into his coach’s office in Nashville.
“Coach called me into the office and said, ‘We need you to get some games, some experience,'” Donasiyano said. “It’s something I’ve been asking, too, but I just have been dealing with injuries and stuff like that. But he called me and told me, ‘This is a great opportunity for you, for the team, for everybody.'”
Less than 24 hours later, the midfielder from Tanzania was on a plane heading to Phoenix. He made his club debut just days later, coming off the bench.
Donasiyano’s move wasn’t long planned. Instead, injury forced Rising’s hand. As soon as it became apparent to Rising coach Rick Schantz that Arturo Rodriguez was out for a lengthy spell, he began calling the people that he knew with MLS teams.
Among those was Nashville SC.
“When they brought up Koze’s name, I’d watched him before,” Schantz said. “I know what he brings as far as tenacity and work rate. Their coach, Gary Smith, speaks extremely highly of him and says there’s no one that’s going to work harder. That’s all I really needed to hear, because that’s what this team needs right now.”
Donasiyano fills a spare position in the midfield, slotting in as what Schantz describes as a “right-footed Aodhan Quinn.”
While his play can be described as familiar, so too is at least one of his new teammates. Rising defender Sivert Haugli played at Virginia Tech while Donasiyano was at Virginia. The two share common friends.
“I know he’s a quality player and I’ve been battling against him in college for many years, and he’s a very good guy as well,” Haugli said. “I think he’ll be a good addition for us.”
While signed primarily due to the absence of Rodriguez, short-term issues such as the departure of Kevon Lambert on international duty have also added to a dearth of players in the middle of the park. The release of midfielder Jonathan Levin hasn’t helped with the numbers either.
“Every player played 50 percent of the games in preseason, so for anyone to say that [Levin] didn’t get an opportunity, he played quite a bit,” Schantz said. “We evaluated him throughout the season and opportunities and just didn’t feel that with Kevon Lambert being gone that we could rely on Jonathan to step into midfield and be a holding midfielder for us. Lateral quickness was a bit of an issue.
“We tried. We did a lot of extra private stuff with him and he worked extremely hard, probably too hard, to his detriment. Sometimes it’s a sign when players are staying after, doing a bunch of extra work on their own, that either they’re not giving everything in training or they’re not doing the things that they really need to be doing. I love him as a person. He’s a competitor. He was a great teammate, but these are the horrible decisions I have to make at times.”
Donasiyano is expected to get his chance. It’s one that comes after injuries saw his previous loan to OKC Energy last no more than 14 minutes. He only returned to full training three weeks ago.
“Last time, I kept getting reinjured because I kept forcing myself to get back into training,” Donasiyano said. “This time, I told myself, ‘I’m not going back until I’m 100 percent.'”
Now back to full fitness, it’s full focus on performing on the field for Donasiyano as he looks to build on an initial substitute appearance.
“I thought he was really good when he went in the game,” Schantz said. “He moved the ball around well for us. I expect that he’ll get a good opportunity this week to compete for a starting position.”
Top photo: José Bosch (Phoenix Rising FC)