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Phoenix Rising FC to kick off return of professional sports in Arizona

Phoenix Rising FC stadium Casino Arizona Field. (Arizona Sports/Ashley Orellana)

For the first time since March 7, it is officially matchday for Phoenix Rising FC.

PRFC’s match on Saturday against LA Galaxy II marks the first Arizona professional sports team to return to action since the sports world was put on pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Another first will be the absence of fans, specifically the South End’s Los Bandidos and Red Fury, as Rising has played in front of a sellout crowd in 23 consecutive games at Casino Arizona Field.

However, that doesn’t mean the stadium will be completely dull and empty.

Phoenix Rising will be playing in front of over 200 cardboard cutouts of supporters and 68 fan-created posters, with proceeds from the former going to Black Family & Child Services of Arizona.

Also benefiting bfcsfamily.org will be proceeds from the player-driven initiative “Rising Against Racism” t-shirt, which PRFC players will be wearing when they come out onto the pitch.

And while no official pre-game protest by players has been announced, one would expect to see similar displays from those that have done so around the world and in the MLS is Back Tournament in Orlando.

Manager Rick Schantz has already expressed his support for the players should they choose to do so. His only ask, regardless of the team’s decision, is that they do it collectively as a group.

There’s a bit of uncertainty as to who will be available when it comes to Schantz’s Matchday 18.

On Tuesday, general manager Bobby Dulle told media on a Zoom call that a total of eight players have tested positive for COVID-19. Of those eight, five had already recovered and returned to training, two were asymptomatic and one had mild symptoms.

The two asymptomatic players are able to go through return-to-play protocol on Saturday, but Schantz has already said that those two players won’t be available or rushed back in any way.

Dulle also said one player was out with an injury and that the club would take the rest of the week to evaluate his status against Los Dos. Phoenix Rising releases its injury report roughly 30 minutes prior to kickoff.

And while the identities of the aforementioned players are unknown, Schantz did say that only one of the regular starters will be unavailable.

“That’s because of my choice — he’s missed training sessions,” the manager said.

The latest-developing factor coming into Saturday’s contest is the July heat, as the temperature is projected to be hovering above 110 degrees at kickoff.

But that may benefit Rising, as the club obviously gets to practice in similar conditions, which Schantz noted following Tuesday’s training session.

“We just came off the field and it was 107 degrees,” he said. “They did 300 meters worth of sprinting during training in what was essentially one of the hardest training sessions they’ve had in eight weeks.

“I think they’re ready to go.”

Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. and will be audio-streamed live on ArizonaSports.com and the new Arizona Sports App.