High Arizona temperatures give Phoenix Rising edge at home
SCOTTSDALE — When it comes to playing in the heat, few teams in the United Soccer League experience what Phoenix Rising FC does on a regular basis.
Phoenix has the highest average high temperature through the summer months — June, July and August — in the USL, according to statistics from U.S. Climate Data and the Weather Network. The next closest is Las Vegas, which is in the midst of its inaugural season.
Besides these two cities, no other USL city averages a high temperature above 100 degrees during those months. Defender Amadou Dia said when he arrived in Phoenix two years ago in June, he was greeted with temperatures hovering around 105 degrees.
“I was like ‘This is incredible,’” he said. “You get used to it eventually. It’s good for us when we play against other teams because they get tired pretty easily.”
This heat will be on full display Friday when Phoenix Rising hosts Seattle Sounders FC II. The Weather Channel predicts temperatures to reach a high of 108 in Scottsdale and the sun to set at 7:36 p.m.
“It becomes difficult (to play in the heat) when you’re starting to struggle and they’re going the other way,” Seattle coach John Hutchinson said several weeks ago.
Ahead of Friday’s match, Hutchinson said he wanted to “make sure our boys understand what (the heat is) about, saving energy in the right times and burning that energy in the better times.”
Practicing in high heat puts extra strain on the body, raising the core body temperature and making the participant susceptible to heat-related illnesses, according to the Mayo Clinic. To cool itself, the body sends more blood to the skin, taking it away from the muscles and increased heart rates.
A similar effect occurs with high humidity as sweat doesn’t quickly evaporate from skin, making it hard to cool off.
Phoenix Rising players and coaches have to keep this in mind when preparing for high heat despite living and practicing in the high temperatures regularly.
Interim head coach Rick Schantz, who replaced Patrice Carteron after he took a job in Egypt, said he focuses on keeping his players healthy and hydrated which is important when players are going to exert themselves in the heat.
“For us, what would be an average or medium day here in the heat is probably a very hard day for teams in normal climate,” Schantz said.
Although Phoenix Rising usually has home matches that start at 7:30 or 8 p.m. in the summer months, during the team’s June 13 home win against Las Vegas Lights FC, the temperature stayed around 105 degrees at first whistle.
Schantz said when the team plays at home, it does see an advantage but not in an obvious way.
“Most of these teams we play against, they are phenomenal athletes so (the physical aspect is) not where you’ll see the difference,” he said. “What we see is they start to make simple and little mistakes that they shouldn’t be making and we capitalize on it.”
This tends to happen later in the match as fatigue starts to take effect, Schantz said. Seattle Sounders FC II midfielder David Estrada said that fatigue is the hardest part about playing in the heat.
“I definitely think fatigue kicks in a little bit earlier than the usual 90-minute game,” Estrada said.
Seattle averages high temperatures in the mid to high 70s during the summer months, about 30 degrees cooler than Phoenix’s average. Seattle Sounders FC 2 recently lost to Las Vegas Lights FC 4–1.
In preparing for high heat matches, Hutchinson said he tries to up the team’s intensity during practices as well as focusing on hydration, resting and eating properly.
During matches, Hutchinson tries to make sure there are cold towels and fans to help cool players. Estrada said water is a necessity during matches as Seattle players are trying to get it as often as they can.
Per the USL referee manual for 2017, officials have the option of implementing a hydration break during each half using a list of points. One of those points includes a league mandate for hydration breaks if the temperature exceeds 82 degrees.
Other than that, Hutchinson said there’s not much else a team can do to prepare for the harsh environment.
“You can’t acclimatize in a couple of days,” he said. “We just try to come up with a game plan where we save some energy to start and then go for it at the end.”