Phoenix Rising (7-5-0) returns home to Wild Horse Pass this Saturday, June 4, to face Birmingham Legion FC (4-4-4) on Pride Night.
This weekend, Rising rebounded from a pair of losses to Tampa Bay and New Mexico with a hard-fought 2-1 win at Hartford Athletic to close out the month. The club looks to have turned the corner as it enters June, a month it has historically owned. Since 2017, the team is 11-2-6 in June.
“We won the game in Hartford, but I didn’t feel like we played extremely well,” said Rising head coach Rick Schantz. “There was a 15-minute spell where we looked disjointed. We were disorganized and there was chaos.”
Steadying the ship, James Musa returned for the first time since reinjuring his hamstring against San Diego on March 26. The club’s leader in minutes last season, Musa helped the team record its second road win of the year and its second comeback victory this season.
“The team battled through it,” said Schantz. “We were amazed Musa made it through the full 90 minutes. It was difficult for him. We also pushed [Kevon] Lambert a little more than we wanted but that was so he was better prepared for his call-up to the Jamaican National Team. Sometimes, you just need to do the right thing for the player. The rest of the team responded. Joe Farrell and Joey Calistri were fantastic. We knew. We’ve always known. When we are fully fit, we’re a very good team.”
Battling injuries, a COVID outbreak and international call-ups, Rising should benefit from returning to a normal schedule for the first time in several weeks ahead of this weekend’s match against Birmingham.
“I really pushed the guys hard this week,” said Schantz. “I told them if they’re not playing or getting the minutes they want, they need to do something about it. They have to be more competitive. Birmingham is a very good team with some fantastic players. They have some guys with a lot of experience. It’s going to be a difficult game.”
Legion FC is 2-1-2 in its last five matches and tough defensively, allowing just three goals in that span. Last time out, Birmingham defeated New York Red Bull II, 2-1, in New Jersey.
“Red Bull is a high-pressing and organized team,” said Schantz. “They’re aggressive but Birmingham has smart players. They were able to break the press a few times and create opportunities with their fullbacks getting very high. I like how Birmingham plays. They’re aggressive and risky. Should make for an entertaining match on Saturday.”
“This week for us has been, not just going back to basics, but hammering home what our DNA is,” said Schantz. “We need to make sure, whether you’re playing or not, you know your role and what’s expected. That’s where I am right now. We cannot win a championship this Saturday, but it is an opportunity for us to improve and keep moving forward towards that goal.”