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Rising FC manager Rick Schantz: We need a better performance to win at OC

Phoenix Rising manager Schantz. (Arizona Sports/Ashley Orellana)

For a club playing in a competitive match for the first time in over four months, Phoenix Rising FC didn’t miss a beat in its 4-0 thrashing over LA Galaxy II on Saturday night at Casino Arizona Field.

But for a game that kicked off with temperatures hovering over 110 degrees, it wasn’t so much PRFC’s conditioning level that concerned manager Rick Schantz, but the team’s mistakes despite having a 3-0 lead at halftime.

“I wasn’t as concerned about the fitness as I was the way we started the match and how many turnovers we had in the midfield,” the 2019 Manager of the Year told media on a Zoom call Tuesday.

“I think we got a little bit fortunate in the sense that, with [Los Dos] missing some guys that actually played [for LA Galaxy on Monday], we benefited that their wing play wasn’t as dangerous and going forward I thought they weren’t very sharp. I’ve told [our guys] and I kind of was hard on them [Monday] in film — that performance is not going to win at Orange County and that we have to improve.”

Schantz noted that midfielder Kevon Lambert exceeded his normal output level during Saturday night’s match.

Another player the manager has praised for having a high work rate is striker Rufat Dadashov. Schantz has compared his output to the likes of Atlanta United forward Adam Jahn, who had one of the highest work rates for Phoenix Rising in 2019.

“Very rarely these days do you find forwards that are willing to defend as much as Adam Jahn and we found Rufat, who does the same, if not, more,” Schantz said.

The manager went on to explain how intelligent both players are in their ability to be taught a new system and be able to execute with such panache.

“[Dadashov’s] willingness to look over his shoulder when we’re pressing and know what passing lanes to cut out has made us very, very good,” Schantz said. “It allows guys like Solo [Asante] and Santi [Moar] and Junior [Flemmings] to be more aggressive.”

Schantz added that there are three things Phoenix Rising looks for in a striker: he has to be strong enough to be a target No. 9, he has to be extremely intelligent and he has to be willing to run a lot.

In the two clips below, you’ll see Dadashov drop a little bit with his back to goal and receive the ball at his feet from the midfield. The Azerbaijani will then quickly play Asante in on goal for an attacking opportunity, the first of which resulted in a Flemmings goal.

“Any time you have a No. 9 that can make two defenders aware of him, it helps our system a lot because then their fullbacks have to stay wide and handle our wingers,” Schantz said. “I think we can all agree that our front three bailed us out quite a bit.

“They were so good, they were so dangerous that teams have to stay back and they have to be cautious, they can’t just come at us. And Rufat’s ability to hold the ball up under pressure, his soft feet, he’s good in the air — I think you would see him at the top level in Germany if he was just a little faster. But other than that, his intelligence and his ability to play this game are next level.”

Phoenix Rising’s next test will be away to rival Orange County SC on Thursday, the first of a back-to-back between the two sides with the second match also being in California on July 25.

The team will be taking two busses that have had every other row taken out in order to give every player 12-15 feet of room to himself. Each player will also have his own hotel room.

Schantz noted that not only is he proud of the club for going above and beyond the USL’s COVID-19 protocol, but that they will be comfortable in their travels. However, because of the recent closures in California due to the coronavirus, the kitchen at the team’s hotel is closed.

PRFC will also be traveling back to Arizona following the match, something the manager said they haven’t done in a while, but that he thinks will become the norm for this season.

Phoenix Rising (6 points) currently sits just one point behind San Diego Loyal SC (7 points) in Group B, while the likes of Los Dos (3 points), Las Vegas (1 point) and OC (1 point) round out the group.

However, San Diego has also played one more game than PRFC, meaning Phoenix still has the most points possible of any team in Group B.

The winner and runner-up of the group will go on to play the runner-up and winner of Group A, respectively, in the USL Championship playoffs round of 16.

Rising returns to action on Thursday away to Orange County, where PRFC won the Western Conference Final in 2018.

Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. and will be audio-streamed live on ArizonaSports.com.