Phoenix Rising FC announced the signing of 16-year-old defender Niall Dunn to an academy contract on Monday.
Dunn is a Valley native who goes to Hamilton High School in Chandler and spent time with several Phoenix-based youth clubs before landing with PRFC’s academy.
Don’t let the fact that Dunn has only been able to legally drive in Arizona for six months fool you.
The defender held his weight against the likes of MLS opposition during the 2021 preseason as both a right back and center back.
“Playing against MLS opponents, it’s crazy to think that one day I’m playing against kids my age and the next I’m playing against professionals,” Dunn said in a press release. “Getting minutes against them has been an amazing opportunity for me. Once the club set a date for me to officially sign the contract, I was amazed. I couldn’t believe the work I put in has brought me this far.
“(Fullback) Darnell King and (midfielder) Jon Bakero have been great mentors to me. They’re always giving me advice on how to improve. It’s a lot quicker pace. The intensity is higher. Going from academy games and training sessions to the pro level — the first few days I was really in shock of how fast it was, but now I feel more comfortable after playing at this level for over a month.”
Those minutes weren’t just in “garbage time” toward the end of friendlies, either.
Due to injuries and rotations within in the squad while guys were still trying to get 90-minute match fit, Dunn started against MLS sides Portland Timbers and Real Salt Lake.
The 16-year-old also started the second half of March 16’s friendly against Colorado Rapids, as well as coming on for an injured Noah Billingsley 20 minutes into PRFC’s contest against Rapids on April 10.
In Saturday’s 2-1 preseason finale win over FC Tucson, Dunn started alongside center back partner James Musa and was once again a noticeably impactful player on the pitch.
“Niall has shown a maturity that you don’t see often at his age,” manager Rick Schantz said in the release. “His composure as a center back, playing in such high-level games shows he has a bright future. It’s just the start for this young man. We are glad he is part of our organization.”
Phoenix Rising now has 23 players signed to its squad ahead of the 2021 USLC campaign, which begins on April 30 against San Diego Loyal SC at Wild Horse Pass:
Goalkeepers: Zac Lubin, Andre Rawls (loan) and Edward Delgado
Fullbacks: Darnell King, Joey Calistri, Deklan Wynne, Ryan Flood and Noah Billingsley (loan)
Center backs: Joey Farrell, Tobi Adewole, James Musa and Niall Dunn
Midfielders: Jon Bakero, Kevon Lambert, Aodhan Quinn, Arturo Rodriguez and Jeremy Kelly (loan)
Forwards: Solomon Asante, Rufat Dadashov, Santi Moar, Ivan Gutierrez, Prince Saydee and Seyi Adekoya