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When Luis Manuel Seijas joined Phoenix Rising last season, the expectation from onlookers was that he would serve as a backup and mentor off the field.
That view prevailed into this season. The full midfield trio was returning, plus Carlos Anguiano joined the squad. How was Seijas supposed to rack up minutes?
For anyone who expected Seijas to be little more than a role player, the message is now clear. We have been proven wrong.
Perhaps it wasn’t the best idea to doubt him in the first place. When Seijas joined Rising thanks to his link with then-assistant coach Juan Guerra, he was joining from Colombian giant Santa Fe. His final minutes in South America came in a Copa Libertadores clash against Fluminense. Seijas had also competed in the knockout stages of the Europa League with Standard Liège. He racked up more than 70 caps for Venezuela.
Nobody doubted that Seijas had shown the talent to compete at a higher level than Phoenix Rising. His track record in the game proved it. The doubt typically centered around his age (35) and its impact on his ability to perform consistently at a high level.
So far this year, there has been no reason to doubt him.
Five games into the USL season, it’s Seijas that leads Rising in scoring (three goals) after his first-half brace against LA Galaxy II.
When he’s on the field, Rising is performing at its best. Phoenix has scored eight goals with Seijas on the pitch, conceding just three. Considering that Claudio Repetto’s goal in San Antonio came from a Seijas shot asking questions of Jordan Farr in the San Antonio goal, the Venezuelan has had a hand in half of the goals scored with him present.
More broadly, Seijas’ presence in the midfield is unquestionable. Even from observation alone, it’s clear that he helps to set the tempo in the middle of the park and seemingly picks out teammates with ease.
When you delve into the stats, you find a player whose 83.6-percent passing accuracy puts him third highest on the team
— right behind Joe Farrell and Manuel Madrid.
Unlike those two, though, he can’t rely on passing around the back to massage his statistics. Instead, Seijas leads Rising with an 81.2-percent passing accuracy in the opposition half. The second highest on the team only clocks in at 74.2%.
Seijas is currently third on the team in passes per 90 minutes. The difference between second-placed Kevon Lambert and Seijas is less than a single pass.
Packing it all together, you have a player who is unafraid to take on shots as Rising’s attack has struggled, and who has seen success from those shots. He has no problem dictating the tempo from the midfield. He also carries a wealth of experience from the higher reaches of the game.
“Players with that much quality and experience in their past, they come into teams and generally the manager just puts them right in the group and you go from there,” Rising coach Rick Schantz said ahead of Seijas’ first start of the season against San Antonio. “I didn’t do that. I kind of made him work like he’s a young player and earn his spot. He proved me wrong, and he deserves [his chance].”
Seijas’ entry to the lineup was no doubt aided by an injury to James Musa, which saw Kevon Lambert drop into the defense. When Musa returns, Schantz will have to decide whether to keep Lambert at the back, and if not, who makes way in the midfield.
It’s unclear what direction Schantz will choose once Musa returns. However, Seijas has only doubled down on his argument for being a starter for Rising.
If he stays in the lineup? None of us should be surprised.