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Phoenix Rising takes first step in hopes of 2020 USL season return

Phoenix Rising manager Rick Schantz. (Photo by Arianna Grainey)

While the rest of the sports world continues its hiatus due to the coronavirus outbreak, Phoenix Rising FC became the first professional sports team in Arizona to return to training on May 11.

And although USL rules may only permit for small groups for the time being, it’s still a very positive sign in pursuit of the return of the 2020 season, which has been on pause since March 12.

“There’s no manual for it. No one has ever done it,” Rising manager Rick Schantz said of the hiatus. “We think we did a really good job. The players were always engaged. We spoke to the guys every day.

“And the more I talked to other clubs, I don’t think that was happening all around the country, so I’m really proud of this staff and the way they approached this. They were very, very hard working and diligent in their efforts. Hopefully, we’re more prepared than most.”

The league’s new restrictions mandate that only up to four players can participate in the same training exercise as long as the players also live with or in close proximity to each other, such as in the same apartment complex, which is the case for most PRFC players.

So what exactly does training look like under the new parameters?

Schantz said that the fitness director starts it off with a prescribed fitness exercise, which is followed by a drill geared toward the technical and functional aspects of the beautiful game.

However, the club hasn’t been able to break down into individual positions just yet, but the 2019 Manager of the Year believes the team may be able to work on things such as finishing and crossing in the next couple of weeks.

“Seven weeks off can really be detrimental to the soccer part of it, not just the fitness, but the passing and you’re doing things at speed, quick thought — that’s where they’re going to struggle,” Schantz said.

“We probably have six or eight weeks to be prepared, hopefully. And right now it’s engaging them physically and technically and trying to get them ready for games.”

So with all these restrictions, what exactly is the ultimate goal of training for the club?

“The first week, and maybe even the second week, the reality is to make them feel safe. It’s psychological. This is all psychological, Schantz explained. “What we’re accomplishing this week, it’s not going to have a lot of bearing on how they perform in whatever season we get.

“What we’re trying to do this week is get them used to waking up at 8 a.m., have breakfast, come to the facility, have training, have lunch, take care of their bodies — get back to the routine that they probably weren’t doing.”

Another major change that will take some getting used to is playing behind closed doors (without fans), something that isn’t unheard of in soccer, as clubs all across the world have been handed sanctions that require teams to play their home games in an empty stadium for a set period of time.

Reasons for this punishment can vary anywhere from breaking financial rules to racism exhibited by that club’s fans.

And while playing completely behind closed doors will be a new experience, Schantz noted that playing in a mostly-empty stadium won’t be, as some teams — particularly MLS 2 sides — don’t draw nearly the same crowd in comparison to Phoenix.

“I’ve thought about [playing behind closed doors] a lot and the reality is I think once we can see some games on TV and you can see competition, that’ll help people around the world in general,” Schantz said.

However, playing in a fanless Casino Arizona Field will be a brand new challenge for Phoenix, especially for a club that has sold out its last 23 matches in a row.

“If our fans can at least watch our boys play on TV and enjoy the football that they’re playing and get some good emotions out of it,” Schantz said of playing without fans. “I think it’s important that we’re able to offer something.

“I’ve told our ownership whatever they needed from me and the team, we’ll be prepared. We’ll be ready. Our players got together the other day and they said that there will probably be an asterisk next to whichever team wins this thing, so it might as well be next to Phoenix Rising.”

Doug & Wolf