The home leg of the rematch from the 2020 league final that never was – Rising hosts Tampa Bay this Sunday (6 p.m. on ESPN2) at Wild Horse Pass.
“We’re really excited to host Tampa,” said Rising head coach Rick Schantz. “They’re a very good team. Neil Collins is a fantastic coach. They play a very entertaining, attacking, aggressive style of football. It’ll be fun for the fans to watch.”
Rising and Tampa Bay were set to meet in the 2020 USL Championship final, only to have COVID end both club’s seasons 24-hours prior to kickoff. Tampa hosted the lone regular-season meeting in 2021, winning, 2-1, at home on May 15, 2021 – 362 days ago. An own goal and a Steevan Dos Santos strike in the 61st minute edged out a goal from Santi Moar in the 61st minute of that match.
The combination of U.S. Open Cup dates and league play against a physical side like San Antonio FC has Rising limping a bit. James Musa has missed all but one match this season due to a hamstring strain. An ankle knock has kept Rising’s 2021 Golden Boot winner Santi Moar from finding his potent goalscoring form.
“We have to be able to put the next guy out there and get after it,” said Schantz prior to the club’s U.S. Open Cup match on Wednesday. “We’ve proven that we can do it so far.”
Carlos Anguiano started his first match of the season in Sacramento and Phoenix’s newest signing, center back Sivert Haugli gave Joe Farrell some much-needed rest. Prior to Wednesday, Farrell had played all 1,020 minutes for the club this season.
“Sivert was very good,” said Schantz. “Carlos really grew into the game. I am really happy for him. He needed this experience. Joey Calistri was playing defensive midfield for us. We’ve got a lot of injuries. I’m proud of the boys. It was a really good performance. I’m feeling more and more confident about where we are going to be as a team.”
Where Phoenix is looking to be is back atop the Western Conference table. Rising has been steadily climbing the standings since suffering its first back-to-back losses in years in mid-March. Back to fourth in the West, Phoenix (6-3-0) is within three points of San Diego (6-2-2) and San Antonio (7-2-0).
Meanwhile Tampa, which has gone 1-3-1 in its last five matches and is 1-1-3 on the road this season, sits seventh in the East. A win for either of the two 2020 finalists on Sunday would go a long way in reestablishing their identity as one of the top clubs in the league.
“You look at the history between [us and Tampa],” said Schantz. “Louisville is there too. Pittsburgh with Bob Lilley and what he has done. For us to be in this league such a short period of time and be mentioned along with some of these teams, it’s awesome.
The fact we get to play Tampa at home is great. Originally the game was set for 5 p.m. and they moved it back to 6 p.m. I was trying to get them to move it to 4 p.m. They wouldn’t listen to me. We know it’s going to be hot. It’s going to be just the way us Arizonians like to play soccer. We’ve got to try to use that as an advantage.”