Get Arizona's Best Sports Content In Your Inbox!

Become a smarter Arizona sports fan with the latest game recaps, analysis and exclusive content from PHNX's writers and podcasters!

Just drop your email below!

Please enable JavaScript in your browser to complete this form.

Upgrade Your Fandom

Join the Ultimate Phoenix Rising Community!

In conquering California, Panos Armenakas comes full circle

Owain Evans Avatar
November 8, 2023
Phoenix Rising's Panos Armenakas lifts the Western Conference trophy

Three straight weeks on the road in California. Three playoff wins, leading to a conference title.

That’d be impressive for any player. For Panos Armenakas, Rising’s attacking midfielder that most would describe as either Greek or Australian, it carries something of a different meaning.

Why? Because, despite seeming to have connections everywhere except the U.S., Panos was born south of Los Angeles.

“Other than holidaying, he’s never really spent any time in Southern California,” Panos’ father John Armenakas said. “So, it’s amazing that the last three weeks they go and sweep three California teams. He’s a kid that’s just come full circle.”

Panos was born at the Hoag Hospital in Newport Beach, right off the Pacific Coast Highway and just a 20 minute drive away from where his side won its second round match away to Orange County.

Just down the road, near Fashion Island, is where John once lived. It’s where Michelle, Panos’ mother, first spotted a picture of John while he was away on business in San Francisco. Connected by a mutual friend, she flew up to Northern California to meet him for the weekend.

“I’m waiting at the airport, wearing black jeans, black t-shirt, black leather jacket,” John said. “I had the shades on, and I was about 50 meters away from the gate. I’d never seen her. There was no Facetime back in the day, or anything like that. She’s only seen a photo of me, so she’s at least seen me. I’m going by a description that this guy’s given me on the phone.”

The two hit it off, and despite John’s yo-yoing between Southern California and Australia, he would propose in San Francisco. After that came Panos, but they wouldn’t remain stateside for long.

“Shortly after Panos was born, I got a job transfer with the company that I was working for to come to London,” John said. “Panos was only in California, maybe for two months after he was born, and then we all got on a plane and went to London.”

The London move didn’t last, and soon the family found themselves Down Under.

“If you have a crystal ball, great, but we didn’t have a crystal ball that things weren’t going to work out in London, we were going to end up going back to Australia,” John said. “The initial thinking was that we were going to be in Australia for a couple of years and then go back to Aliso Viejo. 12 years later, we still hadn’t gone to the U.S.”

Panos would still visit California, going to Disneyland and seeing relatives, but it was back in Australia that he began to hone the skills that would see him shine in his home state later on.

Jim Patikas was a former Australian international — who are often described as “Socceroos” — that had broken into football in Europe with AEK Athens.

“When we came back to Australia, I heard that Jim was coaching kids,” John said. “I got his number and I called him, and said ‘Jim, I’ve got a son. His name’s Panos. I’d like to make sure he’s just learning how to dribble the right way, and technique.’

“He asked how old is he, and I said he’s three-and-a-half, and Jim started laughing.”

Even at that young age, though, Panos proved impressive.

“After the first training session, his exact words, he turned around to me and said ‘I’m not ever f***ing letting go of this kid,'” John said. “That was the love affair. Jim would come and train him for an hour and a half every week. I’ve got footage of Panos where the cones and the ball were bigger than him, but the thing that Jim loved about him was his balance […] and his attention span.

“Panos lived for those training sessions. There were times when he was like four and five where the training would finish, but Panos was too immature to understand that an hour and a half’s enough now, let’s go. Panos would take off running through the park, we’d have to chase him because he was having a tantrum that training was over. What ended up happening was I was videoing with a little video camera and the beta tapes, I was videoing all these training sessions and then repeating the same training sessions with Panos during the week.”

Panos would grow up to become a professional, moving around Europe as a youngster. As a teenager, he left his home in London behind, moving to Italy to play for Udinese.

“The toughest part was being alone,” Panos said. “No friends. No family. Time zone differences. Although you had Facebook and Facetime, when I was waking up, friends and family were sleeping and vice-versa. I didn’t go to school at 16, so no social life from that standpoint.

“I was training with the first team at 16, so my friends were 33 years old, 34 years old. My friends were married with kids, and I’m 16. After practice, they’re going to pick up the kids from school, and I’m going back to my apartment and playing PlayStation all day, waiting for the next day.”

It wasn’t easy to settle for Panos, with numerous setbacks including managerial changes, as well as his clubs hitting financial difficulties. He bounced around from team to team, before eventually finding his way back to the United States, first with Loudoun and then with Phoenix.

It’s put a smile back on Panos’ face: having a coach that shows trust in him, and shows it with playing time. Competing for trophies doesn’t harm, either.

Meanwhile, a continent away, Panos’ parents watch, no matter the unsociable hour.

“Game finishes at five in the morning, and I’m lying in bed wide awake,” John said. “Michelle will go back to sleep — she’s easy — but I get wired.”

In person, too, as the California run continued. Panos’ brother Luke brought his family down to Irvine to see Rising come out victorious over Orange County.

“Those photos of all the team celebrating with all the fans behind them, they’re in the photos at the top, there,” John said. “His brother is up there, which is pretty cool.”

One week later, and his side has conquered California. Three road games. Three wins. A conference title, and another prize right on the horizon to target.

“I knew that there was a lot of emotion getting his hands on that trophy,” John said. “It wasn’t just about the trophy. It wasn’t just about Phoenix. It was a lot about the hard work, the suffering, the journey that he’s been on.”

Follow Owain Evans on Twitter

Get Arizona's Best Sports Content In Your Inbox!

Become a smarter Arizona sports fan with the latest game recaps, analysis and exclusive content from PHNX's writers and podcasters!

Just drop your email below!

Please enable JavaScript in your browser to complete this form.


Share your thoughts

Join the conversation

The Comment section is only for diehard members

Open comments +

Scroll to next article

Don't like ads?
Don't like ads?
Don't like ads?