Phoenix Rising FC coach Rick Schantz doesn’t foresee Junior Flemmings playing in the USL Championship for the rest of his career.
That’s not to say there’s any internal strife between the two. Schantz just thinks the Jamaican is quickly becoming too talented for this level.
“We don’t know if he’s going to be in the USL for much longer,” Schantz said during his weekly virtual press conference Tuesday. “I really hope that he gets an opportunity to play at a very, very high level, because he’s worked for it. He’s earned it, every bit.”
Judging by the play of Flemmings the last two seasons — and especially to start 2020 — it’s easy to see why Schantz is so high on Rising FC’s main option on the left wing. Since signing from fellow Championship club Tampa Bay Rowdies in Dec. 2018, Flemmings has been a revelation within Phoenix’s lethal front three of himself, Adam Jahn/Rufat Dadashov and Solomon Asante.
Flemmings scored 16 times during his first season with Rising FC in 2019, a vast improvement over his one season with Tampa Bay (six goals). Now in 2020, even with a four-month hiatus due to COVID-19, he looks better than ever. Flemmings has scored four times in five matches, tied for second in the Championship, with his latest goal arguably his best in a Phoenix shirt.
In first-half stoppage time against El Paso Locomotive last Saturday, Flemmings had a run down the left wing and cut into the 18-yard box, smoothly dribbling past two defenders before curling a shot into the back of the net. The league ended up nominating the strike for its Goal of the Week award.
“He’s maturing as a man. He didn’t realize what the long-term plan was, and when you don’t know who or where you’re going and what you want to be, it’s kind of hard to be patient,” Schantz said of Flemmings’ time pre-Rising FC. “He went to Tampa, and in his words, he just felt like he wasn’t used correctly and they didn’t find the right system that worked for him.”
Schantz thinks that growth in Flemmings’ personal life has helped his game on the field tremendously. At 24 years old, Flemmings has a daughter he’s raising with his fiance at home, which Schantz said he believes has helped settle him into life at Rising FC. Add into the fact a relentless work ethic that makes him one of the fastest players in the Championship, and Phoenix has essentially a total package on the wing.
Combine that with a high-octane, fast-paced attacking style that Phoenix lives for, one which even with 16 goals only had Flemmings third on his team for scoring in 2019, and it’s the perfect pairing.
“Last year was kind of a revelation for him,” Schantz said. “The way we pressed and kind of allowed him to be aggressive out on the wing. He’s so physically powerful, and he’s so fast. I mean, this guy oftentimes hits about 10 meters per second, which is lightning-quick. He’ll run for days.”
It earned Flemmings calls to play for his country, too. He has 10 national team caps for Jamaica — having played in all five matches for his nation during the 2019 Gold Cup —and scored his first international goal in a 6-0 rout of Aruba during CONCACAF Nations League play on Oct. 16, 2019.
Paired with midfielder Kevon Lambert, who himself has nine caps for Jamaica under his belt, Phoenix has itself a capable Caribbean contingent. It’s a partnership Schantz covets and appreciates, because if either attract the attention of top leagues elsewhere, it’s going to be hard to keep them around.
“Anytime you’re getting called into your national team on a regular basis, you have a sense of pride and confidence,” Schantz said. “He believes (in himself) because of his performances here at Phoenix Rising. So I think they go hand-in-hand, and he realizes when he plays here, he gets to go with the Jamaican national team or he gets more opportunities to be seen around the world.”