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Blair Gavin talks USL Championship playoffs, Flemmings suspension

Phoenix Rising FC assistant coaches Peter Ramage (left) and Blair Gavin are awaiting details about the 2020 USL Championship season resuming. (Photo by Owain Evans/Cronkite News)

Phoenix Rising interim manager Blair Gavin joined Arizona Sports’ Saturday to discuss Saturday’s USL Championship playoff match against Sacramento Republic FC and Junior Flemmings’ six-game suspension.

Gavin, who was raised in the Valley, played professionally for Rising between 2016 and 2017, making 45 appearances with his hometown side.

He was tabbed as the interim manager after Rick Schantz was placed on indefinite administrative leave on Oct. 1 for the Junior Flemmings incident.

Flemmings was suspended six games on Tuesday, assuring he would miss the entirety of the league’s playoffs. Gavin believes Rising can overcome losing the league’s leading regular season scorer however, using a balanced attack offensively.

“Junior was a big piece, on the field and off the field, and we’re still trying to find balance from that,” Gavin said. “But it’s that next man up mentality and we have some players that have stepped up as you saw in our last game. All these guys filled the shoes that Junior had. Yes it’s going to be difficult, there’s no denying that.

“But I believe in these guys and I believe they can achieve something special based on who they are as people and how willing they are to play for each other.”

Gavin alluded to the fact that Flemmings’ suspension will place more of the offensive load on the back of Azerbaijani forward Rufat Dadashov, who finished the regular season with 11 goals in 15 appearances.

Dadashov is the only remaining Rising player to have finished the regular season with double-digit goals, with Solomon Asante finishing third on the team with six tallies.

Gavin expects the team to step up collectively during Saturday’s match, which kicks off at 7:30 p.m. local time.

He believes Rising will go on without missing a beat because of the collaboration he’s had with fellow coaches and team players leading up to Saturday night’s match.

“It’s been 100% collaborative,” Gavin said. “I lean on the people in this organization to help me. Not only the other coaches but the players as well. Everyone is helping me and I’m thankful for that. And so far everyone’s been great and I’m truly thankful for that.”

Facing Sacramento Republic

Gavin and Phoenix Rising face off against Sacramento Republic for the first time this season on Saturday night.

The interim manager believes Saturday’s match will be difficult to prepare for, given the lack of on-field knowledge about the opposing side.

Gavin is confident that the team’s pre-match preparations can make up for some of that, however, along with Rising’s playoff experience, having won the USL Championship Western Conference in 2018, the league’s supporters’ shield in 2019 and the Western Conference’s Group B in 2020.

“Having guys like that that can explain how you need to start the game, how you need to come out in the second half, how you need to prepare for the game, those are just invaluable pieces to a team,” Gavin said.

“As a coach I’ve definitely leaned on them to deliver the messages because it’s so impactful when your teammate is showing you the way along with a self-helping guide as well.”

Gavin added that Rising expects a stiff challenge on Saturday night from a Sacramento Republic side that went 8-6-2 during the regular season.

“It’s going to be very challenging,” Gavin said. “You would like to be able to recognize someone’s strengths and weaknesses based on playing them. But we’ve done a lot study on them and some film and we’ve played some opponents that have played them. And tonight it’s uncertain how everything will match up, but that’s the exciting part about it.”

“So, all our guys are looking forward to it. It’s definitely a challenge, but it is what it is and we’re looking forward to it.”