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For two straight games to open the season, Rising’s defense has given up a pair of goals.
“Whenever you concede a goal, it’s always one or two simple mistakes that turn into the other team capitalizing,” Rising defender Joe Farrell said.
The mistakes were especially evident on Saturday, where Rising conceded off poor errors to the Las Vegas Lights.
“The first goal, we just passed the ball to their team,” Rising coach Rick Schantz said. “It’s pretty hard to be in defensive transition when you pass the ball to their forward.
“The second goal was a goal kick where we didn’t win the first ball. Once you don’t win the header and it gets flicked on, they controlled possession and then we were a little bit exposed in the middle. Both of those goals were our mistakes that they capitalized on.”
Rising has long employed a philosophy of chasing a high-scoring match rather than grinding out a 1-0 victory. It’s one that works: Rising led the league last season in scoring with 71 goals. The two second-best sides had 65.
That can come with dangers, though. Rising’s aggressive attitude sees its right- and left-backs playing farther up the field, often looking for overlaps on the wings. That requires Rising to leave other players back, helping to create what Schantz described as a “box of four” ready to deal with any transition to defense.
“We always try and keep it organized whether we have the outside backs with us or whether it be a midfielder like [Kevon] Lambert or [Aodhan] Quinn,” center-back Joe Farrell said. “We always try and keep certain numbers and find our marks early so that we can stop the play before they even get the first touch or connect the first pass. That makes it the easiest.
“Once they connect that, then there’s times where you just have to recover and trust that your teammates are going to make the runs back and help you out as well.”
Stopping the opposition’s play early is a key part of Rising’s transition game.
“That is where the aggression comes in,” left-back Baboucarr Njie said. “When we mention or when coach mentions aggression, he doesn’t mean go kill somebody or go tackle somebody. It’s basically when we transition, we send a lot of numbers forward where we’re dangerous. Ninety percent chance we might get something or end a play.
“If we don’t, we have numbers enough forward to make sure we win the ball right there and continue attacking. That’s why teams get tired. When we send numbers and we lose it, we get to attack and just try to gain possession again. If we don’t, we make sure the play is done right there and then by recovering back again.”
Early in this season, there have been issues with personnel at the back. Center-back James Musa has been out injured with hamstring issues, requiring Manuel Madrid to replace him at left center-back. Madrid isn’t left-footed, and he has yet to perfect his relationship with Njie.
“Manu is one of the most composed technical defenders that we have,” Schantz said. “He actually does a lot for us in possession, in the willingness to play into the midfield. It’s nice to have James because he’s left-footed, that’s really the bottom line. But at this level, you should be able to play with both feet as a center-back. You should be able to play on both sides, but we design our team a specific way.
“I think James and Babou have a little bit better communication right now, but Manu’s done a great job. He’s stepped in and you can’t say that any of the goals have been his fault.”
Musa should be available for selection in the team’s next match against San Diego, Schantz said.
There are still other issues to iron out defensively for Rising. Njie’s relationship with Santi Moar up ahead of him still requires work. Schantz pointed out their issues with spacing after the opener, but believes time in games and on the training pitch will help resolve the problem.
“Every time we train, usually you partner the left side, the right side when you compete,” Schantz said. “It’s just the way you pick teams. It’s the way you do sort of specific activities and specific exercises, so they spend a lot of time working together.”
For now, that’s the theme. Time on the training pitch should get some of the newcomers used to a system that can be more aggressive than some other USL sides employ.
“We really look forward to adjusting to that and keep going at what we really know how to do, which is just playing forward, playing aggressive, playing hard for 90 minutes,” Njie said. “Honestly, this practice today is harder than the game [against Las Vegas] we had, so that’s just an example of why we should not take any game for granted.”