Last time out Phoenix Rising FC came from behind to earn a point vs. the defending champs, Orange County SC at Wild Horse Pass on July 2. The club now heads out on a two-game road trip to the East’s top sides.
“Every team we play is a hard game,” said defender Baboucarr Njie. “Whether we’re home or away, teams want to beat us. We play quality games, tough games all season. Everyone in the locker room is focused on getting three points, nothing less. The energy is transitioning now. We’re not used to losing. We know we must be stronger. It’s only going to bet better from here. It’s in our hands to control those things.”
At the midway point of the season, several players are returning from injuries and time remains for Rising to pull itself above the playoff line and quality for the postseason.
First up is Memphis 901 FC and a familiar face in former Rising midfielder Jeremy Kelly, who made five appearances for Phoenix in 2021.
“They’re playing [Jeremy Kelly] on the left, where he can cut inside on his right foot,” said Rising head coach Rick Schantz. “He plays like an additional center midfielder. They play a 4-4-2 or a 4-2-3-1. Both their center backs are strong in the air with decent feet. They have two tenacious holding midfielders. They’re hard workers. They let their fullbacks go and the wingers jump inside. They take risks going forward.
In their mid-block, Memphis is very aggressive, very tight and organized. We’re going to need to be very good and creative in our offensive third, moving players around. Because they are so aggressive in their middle block, they have tendencies at times to follow players. We have to be able to move into spaces that have been vacated by others.”
Heading across the county to face one of the league’s top defenses, Rising’s offense is rounding into form with seven goals in its last three games.
“All the goals we scored the past three weeks, we built up as a team and then pinned teams down in their own half,” said Njie. “The chances we give up are because we back off. We’re here to play in one half of the field and traumatize teams – always counter press, always get the ball back right immediately. We’ll defend as a pack.”