Junior Flemmings has been released by Phoenix Rising FC, but Kevon Lambert has been re-signed and the future with the club of their fellow Jamaican, Damion Lowe hangs in the balance for the 2021 season of the United Soccer League.
Rising announced on Friday it had re-signed eight players from the squad that won the 2020 Western Conference Championship, but questions about the remainder of the roster remain unanswered – but not Flemmings.
With the contract of the 24-year-old forward coming to an end on November 30, it was unclear what his future with the club held, after the management placed him on administrative leave following allegations of his use of a homophobic slur towards San Diego Loyals midfielder Collin Martin during a match in September.
Rising coach Rick Schantz confirmed that Flemmings was released and said it was as a result of finances.
“His contract ended and there’s not a whole lot to be said other than that really,” Schantz said. “Junior has lots of opportunities and I think he’s going to be extremely successful wherever he goes.
“You have to understand, with our team and our club, we have to be intelligent about how we spend money on players.”
He added: “If you just wanted to continue to spend outrageous numbers on one, two or three or four players – at some point, you don’t have the depth we’ve been fortunate to have over the last couple of years.
“We have to be smart about how we spend our money and that’s something I think (general manager) Bobby (Dulle) and myself do well.”
Flemmings, the winner of the League’s Golden Boot award for his 14 goals this past season, was handed a six-match suspension and fined an undisclosed sum by the League, following the incident.
It led to Martin and his head coach Landon Donovan, the former United States international, leading the Loyals in walking off the pitch in protest, causing the team to forfeit the match and end their chances of reaching the playoffs.
Flemmings denied the allegations and the USL, the second-tier championship of football in the United States, banned him “for the use of foul and abusive language in the form of a homophobic slur” for the period covering the entirety of the 2020 USL Championship Playoffs.
Martin came out as gay in June 2018 while with Minnesota United, making him at the time the only player in any of the big five American men’s sports leagues or any top-division professional men’s national soccer leagues to make such a revelation.
The fate of Lambert, Rising’s longest-tenured player, is certain for now and he will re-join the club for a fourth season.
The defensive midfielder signed with Rising from Montego Bay United as a 19-year-old in August 2017 and has now appeared in 87 matches and scored nine goals for the club.
Lambert will turn 24 in March and has been capped nine times by the Jamaican Reggae Boyz.
“Bobby and I talk four to five times a day to be honest,” Schantz said. “We’re always talking about players and what their contracts are like, next year or the year after.
“For example, a guy like Kevon Lambert two to three years ago – the idea was to get him on a three-year deal or more at the time.”
He said: “And then you just start thinking if you have a particular player at a spot on a long-term deal, you start focusing on other areas.
“What we try to do is make sure we have a good strong core at the end of the season going into the next, and then I hit the road and go see if I can find some more players that will help us win championships.”
Schantz said he would love to have Lowe back in the squad next season, but the club was giving the defender, currently with the Reggae Boyz on their trip to Saudi Arabia, an opportunity to play at a higher level elsewhere.
“We’ve kind of given (Lowe) the opportunity to look around,” he said. “And speaking with Damion, he said that if he comes back to the U.S. and USL, he said he wants to be in Phoenix.”
The other re-signed Rising players – all starters – include goalkeeper Zac Lubin, defender Darnell King, midfielders Jon Bakero, Santi Moar and Sam Stanton, and forwards Solomon Asante and Rufat Dadashov.