© 2023 BSN LIVE, INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
After falling 3-0 to LA Galaxy II, the reaction from Phoenix Rising was as expected. Players walked off the field looking dejected. Fans filled social media with their own critiques. Rising coach Rick Schantz called out what he saw as a poor performance.
But were those comments fair?
“Now that I’ve had a chance to rewatch it, really think about it, I wish I could take my words back in my social media posts,” Schantz said. “I don’t think that we underestimated them at all. I just think goals change games.”
The day after the game, Schantz tweeted that Rising hadn’t given Galaxy II “enough respect” going into the match. He also called his side “naive.”
That also followed very pointed criticism from Schantz in his postgame remarks, where he described the overall performance as “crap” before adding that “if we play like this, San Antonio will kill us on Saturday as well.”
“It’s never good to not get the three points, whether it’s home or away,” Rising winger Marcus Epps said. “This morning we sat down, we rewatched the game, talked out problems that we could change or adjust. After that conversation as a group, we just take what we can.”
Breaking down the loss was the first thing that Schantz did with his players for the first training session back from Los Angeles.
“I asked them how they felt,” he said. “It was really somewhat cathartic for the boys to watch the game. We watched the production video for the first time. We usually watch an analytical view and I think it was good. They got to hear the announcers. I stopped it and let the boys talk and let them kind of own their emotions a little bit.”
It was rewatching that first-half performance that ultimately convinced Schantz that Rising’s performance was not as bad as he first believed.
“You watch the first 15, 20 minutes and you think to yourself ‘how are we down 2-0?'” the coach said. “The first goal, we talked about it. We had over-rotated a little bit. Whether he was trying to cross or shoot, it doesn’t matter. The ball went in the goal. We should have been able to close down faster, but we made individual mistakes that were punished and goals change games.
“I think that was part of the issue. It wasn’t tactics, it wasn’t effort, it wasn’t that we played poorly. I think we almost outshot them. We did a lot, and even with 10 guys I thought we were very good.”
Now, having watched the game back, the players too felt a weight lifted.
“After the game, you could see from everyone that we were hurt,” Epps said. “It was a disappointing match. Looking back at it, there’s a lot more positives than expected. It’s kind of tough to be 1-0 down before the game really starts, and then the second one coming right after. Then the red card after, the game happened fast. There wasn’t much time for adjustment for the group. But rewatching it, it was a lot more positive than we thought.”
After being given a day off training on Monday in accordance with USL’s collective bargaining agreement, the team is now looking for a fresh start.
“It was good for everybody, I think, to get away from the game a little bit,” Schantz said.
One player in particular looking to bounce back is Rising captain Darnell King, who was sent off in the first half of the match against Galaxy II. That red card means that he’ll miss Saturday’s match against San Antonio.
“He apologized to me,” Schantz said. “He apologized to the team, and he apologized to the front office. Ultimately, I’ve told him that he doesn’t need to apologize. He needs to keep his emotions in check and understand that when things are going poorly, we’re never really out of a game.
“That was one of those moments at 2-0, if we had stayed calm and gotten to halftime at 2-0 or 2-1, we still had a chance to be in that game; 3-0, down a man, becomes very difficult.”
That incident induced a lot of online scrutiny of King’s captaincy, but Schantz and Epps defended him.
“They don’t know who he is as a person,” Schantz said.
“They don’t spend time around the team and see how much Darnell just kind of brings the group together in general,” Epps said. “Whether it’s saying ‘good morning family’ to everyone, whether it’s staying after and making sure guys are on it on and off the field, and the hard work he does on the field speaks for itself.
“I think it’s a little unfair for him to be criticized on one moment this season, and I think it’s been a great body of work on the field. Off the field, there’s not enough can be said about Darnell and what he does as a captain of this group. We all believe in him. The whole staff belives in him, and we stand by him.”
Schantz highlighted the role that King plays off the field for Rising as critical.
“Darnell is Uncle D,” Schantz said. “He comes in every day and he brings the family together. He brings the positive spirit, the great energy in the morning. It’s unbelievable.
“It makes coming to work every day extremely fun, which it has to be because it’s a grind. This is very difficult when you’re out here in the sun in the middle of the summer and you’re working and you’re playing 34 games through this heat. You need to have a positive energy and a positive vibe, and Darnell’s one of the best.”
Ultimately, conflating a lapse in judgment with his performance in the role as a whole is a step too far, Schantz said.
“He and I had a good meeting this morning and talked a lot about performances versus being a captain, and what it really means to the club,” Schantz said. “He’s still one of the best human beings, and I think people have to think long and hard about what they’re saying about whether he should be a captain or not. I remember times when other captains didn’t have great performances, and no one ever questioned that part of it.”
Now, the side is looking to move on from the Galaxy II result. Rising hosts San Antonio at Wild Horse Pass on Saturday.
“A lot of the guys are just ready to put that behind us and put in a body of work this week that we can lean on into this next game,” Epps said. “This next one is important and these next few weeks are important. The group knows that, and I think that’s the focus from everyone.”