Rising Preview Presented by NAU
Phoenix Rising returns to Wild Horse Pass this Saturday, July 30 (7:30 p.m.), vs. Colorado Springs Switchbacks.
Leaning on its defense lately, Phoenix comes into the match on a 275-minute shutout streak dating back to July 9.
“Defending is a mentality,” said Rising head coach Rick Schantz. “It is a commitment and communication. I talked to the team about what it would take to win [vs. Oakland]. The one word that kept coming up was courage. Joey Calistri was fantastic. He cut off a lot of passes. But we did such an excellent job defending that we were not playing forward quickly enough. When we got it forward there was too much hesitation.”
Earning a fourth consecutive clean sheet against Colorado would push the club’s shutout streak past a 344-minute mark last achieved during wins 16-20 of the 2019 season’s 20-game win streak. But, if Rising is to do so, it will have to be without Koze Donasiyano, arguably Rising’s best player on the field in each of its last three games. The loanee from Nashville SC picked up a red card in stoppage time vs. Oakland on Wednesday.
“Koze has been unbelievable the past three games,” said Schantz. “The amount of work he has put in, you can see why Nashville drafted him. He has just been fantastic. He has really grown into himself. When he first arrived here you could see moments when he was excellent but now, he looks like the energy bunny.”
In lieu of Donasiyano, Rising will have the services of Kevon Lambert this weekend. The Jamaican missed the Oakland game due to yellow-card accumulation.
Colorado, which sits third in the West with a record of 13-7-1, may seem like the likely end of Rising’s streak of clean sheets if not for its recent run of form on the road. Switchbacks FC have not scored a goal in any of its last three road matches – a stretch in which the club has been outscored 6-0.
Nearing the final 10 matches of the season, Rising’s defense has finally solidified after giving up 39 goals in 19 games. Now, if the club can ignite its offense, it has a good shot at getting above the playoff line by the end of the regular season. Enter 6’4” forward JJ Williams, which Rising acquired via trade with FC Tulsa on Wednesday.
“JJ is my kind of nine,” said Schantz. “He’s big. He is a finisher. He’s strong and powerful but still has soft feet. He reminds me of Rufat [Dadashov] but stronger. He is a willing worker. This team is coming together. We just need to keep moving forward. Performances like [Oakland will continue to give us confidence.”