Preparations for the new USL Pro League season are well underway and for one team the kickoff to the new season can’t come soon enough. Phoenix FC are counting down the days until Saturday March 23rd when they begin a brand new chapter with their inaugural match against Los Angeles Blues. Its been a remarkable journey for the Arizona based club who were only awarded a place within the league in July of last year so have spent the last 8 months building the foundations and squad aimed at success. The appointment of former Aberdeen, Rangers, Leeds and Scotland full back David Robertson as head coach came fairly quickly as the club owners knew he needed time to build a squad. Try outs were launched and scouting began in earnest to find a competitive mix of talent American youth players, establish American squad members and some foreign players that could bring experience and knowledge to the team. With no budget as such for transfers, Robertson relied on finding players on free transfers and who were out of contract. Unsurprisingly his first stop was back home to Scotland where he found Phoenix FC’s new star striker.
Darren Mackie has been at Aberdeen since he was a kid, coming through the youth team and spending thirteen years in the first team. As a regular starter, Mackie played under a variety of managers and played in some of the clubs biggest matches during that time including UEFA Cup games against the likes of Dnipro, FC Copenhagen and Bayern Munich. His service to the club earned him a testimonial back in July 2011 against Spanish Side, Villarreal but later that season he would be told that his contract would not be renewed and he was free to leave Aberdeen. Mackie started looking for his next opportunity and in September 2012, Robertson convinced him to move to the United States to be part of the Phoenix FC team.
Mackie joins the squad as the oldest player at 31 years, but still has plenty to offer. His experience playing in Scotland and in European competitions have given him a wealth of knowledge that he can instill on his new young teammates. He will lead the line and be looked upon by the management team as their main goal threat, despite never really being a natural goal scorer. Having spent 13 years in Scotland, Mackie only ever hit more than 10 goals in a season twice but the standard and pace of the USL should be less than back home so Mackie may be able to improve on that record. Homesickness shouldn’t be a problem either as not only does Mackie have fellow scot Robertson to talk to but Phoenix have also signed former Aberdeen, Dunfermline and Ross County defender Scott Morrison as well making it a trio of Scots at the club. Mackie’s concerns were also put to rest by the reception he received at Phoenix Airport by his new clubs supporters group La Furia Roja 1881 / The Red Fury 1881. A selection of well wishers welcomed the player and his family there with flowers, fruit baskets and applauds, all helping the player to adjust to his new hometown.
With the rest of the squad now in place, Robertson, Morrison and Mackie can now get down to the business of preparing for the new season. Training has already begun and pre season friendlies are being arranged with the hope that the team has enough time to gel together before their first match against Los Angeles. Phoenix will be known as the Wolves and will carry the symbol of a Mexican wolf on their club badge in the hope that it intimidates the opposition off the field. But that job will fall mostly to Mackie and fellow striker Aaron King as they hope to strike up a partnership that sees them terrify opposition defences and generate the goals needed to propel Phoenix up the table. Mackie will be confident that he can be a success in the US and has the backing of his coach David Robertson all the way:
“We are thrilled to come to an agreement with Darren knowing that he possesses outstanding qualities on and off the field. With Darren’s leadership and experience, Phoenix FC is positioned to immediately compete for a USL PRO Championship.”
Time will tell if Mackie can rekindle the form he found in the 2006-2007 season with Aberdeen where he finished on 15 goals and was touted for a potential Scotland call up. It’s unlikely now with this move that new Scotland boss Gordon Strachan will be calling him anytime soon but Mackie will look forward to the challenge of impressing another Scottish boss and repaying his faith in the striker by banging in the goals Phoenix need to compete in the USL Pro Championship.
To see Darren Mackie’s fan reception, click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IPWOAZ2-ezs
To see Mackie score one of the craziest goals ever, click here: http://www.phoenixfc.com/media/Video-Daz-amazing-goal/index_E.html