Phoenix Rising heads East to Loudoun County, Virginia, this Saturday, June 18, to take on United. That match, set to kick off at 4:30 p.m. local time, will air live on Bally Sports Arizona Extra and ESPN+.
Falling below the playoff line for the first time in years, Rising is awaiting the return of Jamaican International Kevon Lambert to solidify Phoenix’s back line. Lambert played all but eight minutes in the Reggae Boyz last three international matches. When the Jamaican slots in at center back for Rising, the club has a 4-1-0 record this season across all competitions.
Lambert is the final piece of the puzzle for Rising, who saw Aodhan Quinn and James Musa return in recent weeks. Together, the three had the ball at their feet more often than anyone last season, accounting for a combined 132 passes per game in 2021.
“We didn’t make changes earlier than this because we had so many injuries,” said head coach Rick Schantz to media this week. “When you have Santi, Aodhan, Arturo, Lambert, Musa – that’s an all-pro list right there. Changing the system because of injuries was bad for the remaining players. It shows a lack of faith, a lack of trust, but with all the new players and some of the lack of chemistry, I was trying to force a square peg into a round hole. It’s time for me to reevaluate the talent we have and make sure we’re putting them in positions to succeed.”
The best road team in the USL Championship last season, Rising will look to regain its form against a Loudoun side that is coming off a 0-2 loss to Atlanta United 2. Currently at 3-9-2, United began the season on a 2-0-1 run before a nine-game winless streak in April and May. Loudoun picked up a 1-0 win against NY Red Bull II on June 8 thanks to the club’s leading scorer, 17-year-old Abdellatif Aboukoura, who has a pair of goals in four appearances.
Rising is looking to right its own ship after dropping two in a row at home.
“Rather than putting our heads down and being negative, it’s time to push and play inspired,” said Schantz. “Other coaches around the league have reached out. They are waiting for Phoenix to turn it around and get it going in the right direction. We still have the talent. We still have a good group. We have been playing well enough but just making too many little mistakes. Those little mistakes will be fixed with accountability.”
“The best response for me was immediately after our last game when we met with the players,” said Schantz. “We talked about accountability. Some of the guys stepped up and had a lot to say. Aodhan Quinn is a veteran leader. He was hard on the group but it’s what they needed to hear. Ben Lundt had a lot of good things to say. He was very honest and blunt. Now it’s time to put up or shut up.”