Phoenix Rising to play San Diego Loyal, Tampa Bay Rowdies on ESPN2

Apr 9, 2021, 6:15 PM | Updated: 6:59 pm

Phoenix Rising FC fullback Darnell King plays a ball in against Union Omaha in a preseason friendly...

Phoenix Rising FC fullback Darnell King plays a ball in against Union Omaha in a preseason friendly at Wild Horse Pass in Chandler on March 24, 2021. (Owain Evans Photo)

(Owain Evans Photo)

For the first time in club history, Phoenix Rising FC will be playing two regular-season matches on national television.

PRFC will open up the 2021 USL Championship campaign — and new stadium at Wild Horse Pass in Chandler — against Western Conference rival and Pacific Division opponent San Diego Loyal SC on April 30 at 7:00 p.m. on ESPN2.

Then after hosting newly added USLC side Oakland Roots on May 8, Phoenix will travel across the country to take on the Tampa Bay Rowdies on May 15 at Al Lang Stadium in Florida on ESPN2 at 5:00 p.m.

The Rising-Rowdies matchup will be the first between the two clubs despite being the 2020 champions of their respective conferences after last year’s USL Championship Final was cancelled due to positive COVID-19 cases within Tampa Bay’s camp.

But before we get to Matchday 1, Phoenix still has some housekeeping items to tend to.

First and foremost, the construction crews at Wild Horse Pass continue to get the stadium ready as the regular season is now just three weeks away.

The team has already been able to share its two training pitches with MLS’s Sporting KC while also playing a few preseason matches on them against SKC and USL League One side Union Omaha. After Phoenix plays MLS side Colorado Rapids in Tucson on Saturday, PRFC is scheduled to host Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC (April 17), New Mexico United (April 24) and FC Tucson (April 25) to close out the 2021 preseason.

Another item on the agenda — and maybe what the fans are calling for most at the moment — is the release of this season’s kits. As of now, the club has announced that Adidas will be the kit sponsor through 2026, while Carvana will remain the shirt sponsor through 2023.

The last thing on the to-do list is the completion of the roster, which is probably the most important from both an on-field product perspective as well as the internal competition it creates in training. Manager Rick Schantz has preached that he wants to be “two-deep” at every position so that every player is pushed to be the best every single day.

As of April 9, Phoenix Rising has 21 players signed to its roster for the 2021 USLC campaign — not including academy contracts. Do some quick math and you’ll realize that a minimum of 22 footballers will be needed for the club to truly be “two-deep” at every position.

However, three of the 21 currently signed are goalkeepers, which means Phoenix will need to add at least two more outfield players to the squad. For context, World Cup rosters consist of 23 players, three of which are goalkeepers.

Player No. 22 may already be in the works, as right back Noah Billingsley received high praise from Schantz following a 1-0 loss to MLS side Real Salt Lake in a preseason match on Wednesday. Billingsley spent the 2020 season on loan with Las Vegas Lights FC from Minnesota United FC.

“Noah Billingsley — fantastic at right back,” Schantz told Owain Evans.

As for what position a future signing or signing(s) could bring, I would expect to see a fourth true center back — something the PRFC manager has always had in his time at the helm — and perhaps another box-to-box midfielder.

Schantz said this season’s transfer window extends to June, so there could be some late additions and perhaps even more MLS loanees to come:

Goalkeepers: Zac Lubin, Andre Rawls (loan) and Edward Delgado

Fullbacks: Darnell King, Joey Calistri, Deklan Wynne, Jeremy Kelly (loan) and Ryan Flood

Center backs: Joey Farrell, Tobi Adewole and James Musa

Midfielders: Jon Bakero, Kevon Lambert, Aodhan Quinn and Arturo Rodriguez

Forwards: Solomon Asante, Rufat Dadashov, Santi Moar, Ivan Gutierrez, Prince Saydee and Seyi Adekoya

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Phoenix Rising to play San Diego Loyal, Tampa Bay Rowdies on ESPN2