Phoenix Rising FC’s back line lost its biggest names when English Premier League alumni Peter Ramage and Jordan Stewart flew back across the pond, but four players return from the 2017 campaign. The unit was highly criticized in the beginning of the season, but showed incredible improvement as the season went on, flourishing under the leadership of head coach Patrice Carteron.
Dia was a mid-season addition to the Phoenix Rising squad after spending time with Sporting KC (and USL affiliate Swope Park Rangers) and Montreal. Dia made his impact felt immediately in his first start, connecting with Ivorian legend Didier Drogba on a cross from the left corner for Drogba’s first goal in a Rising uniform. Dia proved to be a versatile teammate, playing at midfield during the second half of the season. Though successful in the middle, Dia is listed as a defender by the team, and will be called to serve on the left wing or center back.
Like Dia, Mala was a late addition to the Rising defensive unit in the 2017 season. Mala played in ten games, starting 9. A typically disciplined player, Mala was shown a straight red card in a 2017 match against Rio Grande Valley, reducing Phoenix Rising to 9 players (Dia had previously been sent off after a second yellow). RGV scored an equalizer five minutes into stoppage time as a result. Like Drogba, Mala hails from the Ivory Coast, and figured strongly into the defense’s improvement. Mala is likely to start as a center-back.
When then final whistle has blown, defenseman Vasquez can often be found in front of south stands showing respect and tossing his jersey into the stands in appreciation for the team’s supporters. Vasquez was signed in 2016 by Frank Yallop after standing out at team combines. He enters his sophomore season with 25 starts, and is expected to play on the left side behind Dia.
Though Wakasa never found the pitch for PDL side Ventura County Fusion, the Cal Poly product has become accustomed to lacing up his boots for Phoenix Rising, appearing in 26 matches during the 2017 campaign. The rookie had some difficulty adjusting to the pro game in early matches, but gained confidence and ability under Carteron’s tuteladge. The sophomore player will see competition on the right side from incoming Ghanan Yaw Frimpong.
The Rochester Rhinos will not be hitting the pitch this season, but their former standout center-back will. Joe Farrell spent two seasons in upstate New York, earning USL rookie-of-the-year honors in his inaugural 2016 campaign. the 6-foot 2-inch defender will be tasked with filling the size gap left by Rammage and Stewart’s departures. Farrell looks up to the task, as he lead the Rhinos in clearances and aerial duals in 2017.
Head coach Patrice Carteron called on his experience with Congolese side TP Mozembe in reuniting Yaw Frimpong with teammates Solomon Asante and Gladsen Awako. The 31 year-old stands at a slight 5-foot 6-inches and figures to compete for playing time on the right wing. His age puts him as the senior member of this year’s defensive squad, but with age comes experience. With four domestic titles and two CAF Confederation Cups, his effect figures large.
Projected Back Line
*Kevon Lambert is listed as a midfielder, but has experience on both lines. The lack of depth on defense, as well as stacked mid-field line, leaves us to believe the Jamaican International will split time between units.