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It’s never been a secret that Phoenix Rising boasts international flair in its locker room. No less than 11 nationalities don the club’s red strip on a Saturday night, bringing a wealth of experience from across the globe.
For some players, their journey onto Phoenix’s radar is easy to track. Players such as Claudio Repetto, Greg Hurst and Baboucarr Njie boast a history of competing at the professional level in the U.S.
For the rest, the road is a bit more winding.
“In world football, you’re not really able to fly people in for trials very often,” coach Rick Schantz said. “It just doesn’t happen. You kind of have to go scout, watch them or get eyes on them.”
Sometimes, getting eyes on players happens simply by chance. In 2019, Corey Whelan was first spotted during a visit by co-owner Brandon McCarthy to Liverpool.
For others, there’s a more personal connection. Luis Manuel Seijas is entering his second season in Phoenix. Seijas joined after conversations with then-Rising assistant coach Juan Guerra, who played alongside him as a Venezuelan international.
“He wasn’t sure about his future,” Guerra said in September. “He did want to come to the United States, and right away, as soon as that happened, I reached out to Rick.
“Obviously, Rick liked him right away. We all did, but at that moment we weren’t looking to bring someone in right away. So we said yes, we like him, but let’s put that to one side and see how things develop. “
Guerra has since departed the club, becoming head coach of Oakland Roots.
“I was sad, I have to say, [because] I didn’t get a full year with him, but Rick and I talk and it was a great opportunity for Juan,” Seijas said. “I’m very grateful for Juan because he opened the door for me here.”
Former striker Rufat Dadashov joined from a third-tier German side ahead of the 2020 season. At the time, Rising general manager Bobby Dulle spoke of a process of refining the traits sought in a player, then proactively reaching out to agents with their shopping list.
“We get flooded, and I’m trying to say that in a humble way, with profiles from around the world,” Dulle said. “The reason for that is first and foremost Didier Drogba and what he did for us in year one of the club. He put us on the map not in the U.S., not in Arizona, but around the world. There are still people to this day that say ‘that’s Didier Drogba’s club.’ Not to mention that we could call Didier at any point or have Didier call for us. That’s helped us break down a lot of doors around the world.”
Dadashov was one of those profiles, with his agent reaching out to Rising seeking a move. After a vetting period — including conversations between him and Schantz — the forward became another international Rising player.
Sometimes those connections with agents around the world, as well as with scouts, help to turn up unexpected names.
One example was Richmond Antwi. The 21-year-old joined the side this offseason, with his professional experience coming in Ghana and Sudan.
“We have a couple of scouts and agents that we work with in Africa,” Schantz said. “Obviously, with Solo Asante being here, we have a relationship with some people down there. There’s a club, the Accra Lions, that has a guy that’s from the Portland Timbers that’s working there and I’ve known him for years.
“It’s kind of, I’d guess you’d say, an untapped market from a USL perspective. I’ve worked to build a network all over the world as best I can. If we’re ever looking for players, we get calls from all over the world. You’d be surprised.”
Of course, there are reasons why markets are “untapped.” For one, there can be a lack of access to reliable broadcast footage.
“There’s two or three different platforms: InStat, Wyscout, these different systems where they have every game ever played,” Schantz said. “It was difficult, but we were able to find games that Richmond had played in.”
Despite some access to data and footage, there’s still an element of luck at play. If the club didn’t take a gamble, it wouldn’t see the rewards.
“We don’t have the budget to fly to Africa to watch him so you do have to take a risk sometimes,” Schantz said. “Sometimes it just works out financially that it’s worth taking the risk because it’s not going to kill the team if you miss on it, but I think Richie’s been a great surprise.”