Playing in the V-League

Ash Apollon’s unlikely football career has taken him from his native Boston all the way to the pros in Vietnam. Words by Harry Hodge

Ashkanov “Ash” Apollon has certainly taken the path less travelled in his professional football career. And that journey has brought him from the other side of the world to playing for Long An FC of the V-League.

Apollon was a late bloomer in the game, playing it sparingly growing up in Massachusetts since he was more into other sports like basketball.

 

“Football really started to become my passion around the age of 16 when I was living in Haiti with my parents,” he recalls. “The passion for the game there is enormous; it was then that I started getting into it.”

 

In spite of his late start, he was able to secure a scholarship to Peninsula College in the Pacific Northwest of the US. From there he made the cut for the academy side of the Seattle Sounders of Major League Soccer (MLS).

 

Apollon’s pro career started in Thailand, where he played in 2014 and 2016. He called it a “slow start” to his career since he was already 23 when he signed the contract. A Thai connection contacted Long An’s manager and suggested him, and he was on a plane as soon as his Thai contract ended. Prior to arriving he’d watched some videos and Asian Football highlights to get a feel for the Vietnamese game.

 

“Nothing can really prepare you (to play here), there are so many unexpected things and it is a mistake to ever underestimate the league,” he said. “After the team had discovered me, their main expectation after signing me was for me to bring some flair into the attack, to score and create goals in general.”

 

As for the team, that’s another story. After the first few games, Long An FC was languishing near the lower end of the league standings. This included a bizarre match against Ho Chi Minh City FC where a soft penalty led to an on-pitch “boycott” by his Long An team-mates, who refused to try playing despite the game being locked at 2-2. Their goalkeeper even turned his back during a penalty kick in what ended as a strange 5-2 loss.

 

The fiasco made worldwide headlines for all the wrong reasons. Suspensions and two-year bans ensued, with a new chairman appointed shuffling the line-up over the black eye it gave Vietnamese football.

 

“For me, as long as I’m playing, living well and getting paid I’m good,” Apollon said. “The league is not easy, any team can get a result anywhere at any time, nothing is ever given.”

 

But Apollon has remained positive about prospects for the rest of the season. He’s currently on a one-year contract with Long An FC.

 

“It’s been a great experience so far and it’s nice that I’m starting to make my name in the league,” he said.