Rising begins a stretch of six away matches in the next nine weeks at Orange County SC this Friday, August 12 at 7 p.m. (live on ESPN+ or tape delay on Bally Sports Arizona at 9:30 p.m.).
Sitting on a run of 455 minutes without allowing a goal, Phoenix is in position to claim the longest shutout streak in club history if it can keep OC off the scoreboard beyond the 47th minute. Its defensive woes addressed, it’s now time for the team that led the league in goalscoring each of the past three seasons to ignite offensively.
“[Against Las Vegas] we were settling for crosses from wide areas that weren’t very dangerous,” said Rising head coach Rick Schantz. “The last two days, we spent a lot of time working on what we should look like in the final third. It’s the movement off the ball. It’s the runs in-behind. It’s the selfless actions when you don’t have the ball that makes the game open up. Everyone understands. We’ve had a couple of good training sessions. We’re excited because it was a very clear picture that was painted.”
The defensive turnaround also stemmed from a clear picture painted the last time Phoenix faced Orange County on July 2.
“That’s when we really started to focus on improving our lackluster defending,” said Schantz. “We were dominating that game, but they could easily get out of any sort of counter-press. They were finding [Erick] Torres or [Milan] Illoski and killing us.”
Surprisingly, Schantz is looking forward to the rematch being on the road in Orange County.
“When we’re on the road, the other team has to make the game a little bit,” he said. “That can lead to the game opening up. We’ll get chances on the road. We’re going to need concentrate on our defense. Everyone needs to be responsible and accountable.”
A road win would push Rising within a point of seventh place El Paso and sixth place Las Vegas – both of which face difficult opponents this week (Colorado & San Antonio).
“The guys understand how close they are,” said Schantz. “That’s been a topic the past few days – no one in the West is really running away. Even at the top it is competitive. We’re not eliminated. We know we have an opportunity. Orange County is a dangerous team. It’s at their place so we’re going to need to be exceptional.”