Describing defender Ashkanov Apollon as ambitious would be a tremendous understatement.
Not only does the Republic FC left back carry himself with a positive attitude and brings an enthusiastic approach to his profession, but Ash also sets his sights as high as possible and relentlessly chases after his goals.
No soccer stage is too grand, no language is too difficult to learn, and no country is too far from home for him to explore.
Ash dares to dream, and his lofty ambitions have taken him on an extraordinary excursion around the globe. For a man who speaks five languages, his drive to learn sees no bounds, and he’s applying that desire to absorb as much information as possible on the defensive front.
After all, Ash only first picked up the game of soccer at 17 years old and he’s spent the entirety of his playing days as a forward. Now, the Boston-born speedster who earned a first team contract in February by way of a successful trial stint during preseason after impressing coaches at the January open tryouts, is plying his trade on the left defensive flank and is willing to do whatever it takes to be one of the boys in Old Glory Red.
“I wanted to be on this team and the coaches told me they wanted another left back so I thought, ‘no problem, I’ll humble myself’, but all my life I’ve been playing as a striker, as a winger, scoring goals, but I thought I could learn the left back position. I don’t know that position, but I felt I had the potential to play it very well,” Apollon said. “That’s one part about being versatile, you can be good and effective a few different positions and the coaches know I can play a few of those.”
On the attacking front, Ash knows exactly where to go and where to be. But it’s a whole new ball game when playing left back. When questions or concerns arise, Ash knows to make the smart move and consult the expertise of the veterans around him. And he’s fully cognizant of how fortunate he is to have a decorated defensive professional like Dekel Keinan by his side to share his soccer wisdom and help grow his game on the back line.
“For me, the adjustment has been learning tactically where to be when we have the ball, and when I don’t know, I ask, I ask Dekel and that helps me develop,” Apollon said. “Now playing that position, and playing it the entire preseason, I’ve realized I’m much better at defending than I thought I was! I’m improving every day, I watch a lot of videos, staying professional and always learning because if there’s one thing I know about this game is that you can never stop learning.”
The moment Ash first learned the beautiful game wasn’t in an organized youth league growing up or in a physical education class. It was playing pickup in Haiti, the birthplace of both his parents.
“I was an athlete, but I didn’t play soccer, I ran track and even growing up in Boston in PE class we didn’t have soccer. We had baseball and handball, we had basketball and volleyball and stuff like that, but we didn't have soccer,” the charismatic defender said. “So, I didn’t play, and I didn’t even watch soccer much. It wasn’t until I was in Haiti when I picked it up.”
But the moment he stepped foot in Haiti and immersed himself in the culture, he was captivated. Both by both the soccer culture and Haiti itself.
“When you’re in an environment, when people are speaking Spanish around you all the time, you are going to pick up some words and if you end up getting interested in it then you might end up speaking Spanish,” Apollon said. “Same goes for football where every day, every kid is with a ball and if you hear a whistle on a nearby field, it gets pack, everyone is lining up to play, making teams and calling next [to play], making teams and calling next and I thought that was pretty amazing.”
“That’s what you did to pass your time, you weren’t behind these video games, you just try to get out onto the field and if you’re out then that’s too bad because it’s hard to get a spot back on the field. That’s the national passion, the number one sport over there.”
His dreams did not stop at the professional level. Ash aspired to rise into the top levels of international competition, with opportunities to represent Haiti potentially knocking on the door. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, it looked as though he just might just get that first opportunity to wear the national team kit for Les Grenadiers – French for ‘The Soldiers’.
At the time, he had high hopes of wearing the Red, White and Blue – the colors of his home country. And to do so, Ash thought the appropriate path to do so was to try to make a name for himself on the European stage.
“The Haitian National Team has called me a few times so there was a good chance I was going to get called in for those [upcoming] matches but we don’t know what’s going on now,” Apollon said. “I was playing in Asia when they called me last, but I had big aspirations heading to France with a League Two team and I was looking for the possibility of signing there so my dream then when I was 24-25, was to break out in Europe and possibly get a call-up with the U.S. National Team, and that was my dream then. You can never dream too big. If you’re a competitor, you want to reach your highest potential.”
“So, back then, when they first called me, that was my aspiration, playing for the U.S. National Team. But I kept working and never gave up. I’m here now and if I end up playing for the Haitian National Team, that would be an honor as well. It would be amazing, to represent a country, I mean that’s really something else.”
Having deeply fallen for the game in Haiti, Ash had discovered his purpose and passion. Now it was time to find a place to pursue it. What better a place then back home where the rising star had a high-class debate on his hands by having to decide between playing professionally or competing at the college level.
“When I picked up soccer in Haiti, my sole goal was to come back to the United States and pursue a professional career,” he said. “I didn’t know the system in the U.S. so when I came back, I realized it wasn’t that easy to get into the professional system, you might have to go to college and go through the draft. I spent two years at school in Portland that didn’t have a soccer team so I transferred to Washington [to Peninsula College] to get some more credits and play soccer and then the University of Washington, Seattle U, UCLA, a couple other schools wanted me to play NCAA Division I but I ended up going to play pro overseas and that’s how it all played out for me.”
Despite over 15 offers to play at the NCAA Division I, a chance to play in Asia was simply too tempting to pass up. Ash’s friend from the pitch, O.J. Obatola, had suggested Ash connect with his agent regarding an overseas opportunity. After giving it some thought, Ash was ready play pro across the Pacific.
“He went back to play in Asia, so [O.J.] was playing in Asia, came to play in the U.S. then left again to go back to Asia and we met while he was in the U.S. and when he went back he told me ‘if you’re interested in coming [to play in Asia], I know you’re a good player, I can help you’ and at the time I didn’t really want to,” Apollon said.
“I wanted to go to college for now but I learned that if I went to college I only could play for a season so when I learned about how those teams abroad are interested in me I thought, ‘OK, I can only play a year in college’ so I contacted him and told him I thought I might be ready to come. The agent had me come and we got to sign for the same team which was cool.”
photo credit Peninsula Daily News
The team in Thailand was Looktabfah FC and both players combined for 14 goals in 2014. Just like living in Haiti, Ash was in a new nation and the ambitious professional was falling in love with everything it had to offer.
“The people there are so nice and it’s so cheap, you can afford so many things, if you’re making decent money then you live like a king,” Apollon explained. “I would be going out with my friends and buying meals for four people and it would end up being a total of seven dollars. It was cool, you had the beautiful beaches and it was super tropical. You fly an hour, you go to a beach, you fly another hour and you’ll find another beach, it’s so nice and I really, really enjoyed it.”
After some time abroad, Ash was starting to feel the heat. Not on the pitch though, he just needed to be cautious about the spice-level of the local cuisine.
“When I was in Thailand, I would always go out for food and it is natural for them to make it spicy so you have it make sure if you don’t want it spicy you tell them ‘mai phet’ which means no spice,” the wingback explained. “If I forget to say so when I order, because they don’t ask you if you want to make it 1-2-3 level of spice, so you have to make sure to say no spice if you don’t want it to be. I never got used to eating spicy so I would always order mild and take it easy on that!”
Following his first test in Asia, Ash passed with flying colors and was ready to take his talents back to the States. With ties to the Seattle Sounders, he was offered an opportunity to participate in open tryouts. An ambitious Ash performed well but did not reach an agreement with the club’s first team.
During this time in the Seattle, Asia kept calling and Ash knew full-well this was another glorious chance to continue accumulating professional experience and honing his craft. But he definitely wonders what could have been had he broken into that squad.
Photo credit Warubi Sports
“I ended up going back to Asia because I had a good contract waiting for me and I thought I’ll go back and get some more experience,” Apollon said. “Honestly, I thought if I signed for S2 I would have had a good shot at signing for the first team because a lot of players who were on S2 signed for the first team after six months or after the season and I thought I was more talented but I didn’t come from a big D-1 school or a major university, but I had grit and a hard work ethic and undiscovered talent.”
Ash was going to grind it out if that’s what it took to make it, but those around him recognized that a change of scenery might be the best possible move to see more minutes and keep that dream of playing professionally at the top level alive.
“Somebody was always saying ‘Ash, you have so much talent. You need to leave and get out of Seattle and someone will sign you!’ they always told me,” he said. “So, until Sacramento, I never tried.”
The defender’s journey was far from finished despite not finding a permanent home in the Pacific Northwest. He was primed for a return to the Far East and unknown to Ash at the time, but his stateside return was emerging on the horizon. It just required a few stops on a pair of different continents first.
“I felt like I should be playing somewhere else, so I went back to play in Asia. And why Asia? Because I had the connections there and I had already made a name for myself,” the fullback said. “Had I not had the connections, maybe I would have had a different pathway, but after Thailand I ended up in France because I thought if not the US, let me go to Europe because I thought maybe I can break out and make another MLS team.”
Photo credit Haiti Tempo
After joining a trio of French clubs, Ash was ready to do what he set out for since leaving Haiti, to make a name for himself in North American soccer. Ash was coming home, and his best was still yet to come.
“That’s what I wanted when I got here, I wanted to contribute to soccer here in the U.S.,” he said. “I’m an American whose been playing overseas for a while so let me come back and let me put my signature on the league over here.”
Like something out of a storybook, the next chapter of Ash’s narrative has a Hollywood ending. Trying out for a professional team alongside hundreds of other talented competitors and actually making it is something out of a dream.
But for Ash, that dream would soon be a reality. In front of Republic FC Head Coach Mark Briggs and General Manager Todd Dunivant, he shined, and earned a first team contract to play for the boys in Old Glory Red.
With a pro deal under his belt, Ash is now fully fixated on proving himself to the Republic FC faithful. Even though the current climate because of the pandemic isn’t allowing Ash the chance to showcase his skills on gamedays, just know that when the time comes for play to resume, there’s no need to worry if he’ll be ready.
“I am a professional, and I know that we have to be ready at all times, and we need to be in-tune, mentally and physically,” Apollon said. “I feel like right now, I’m just hitting my prime, my body isn’t used up yet and I feel good, I’m excited, man.”
And SRFC supporters are equally as excited to see what Ash is intending on delivering in his highly anticipated debut season.
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