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Nationally televised Rowdies clash takes center stage for Rising

Owain Evans Avatar
May 15, 2022

Leaving the field after a midweek loss in the U.S. Open Cup, Phoenix Rising coach Rick Schantz put the disappointment behind him as he looked ahead to a clash against the Tampa Bay Rowdies.

“We’ve got to get on with it,” Schantz said. “It’s not a big deal. We want to win every game, but at the end of the day, it was a cup [game]. There were no points on the line.”

A fatigued Rising side will have more than just emotions to put behind them as they face another tough test. Over the past two weeks, Rising has played three matches since the Rowdies last took the field.

“I can’t say that it doesn’t help us a little bit,” Rowdies coach Neill Collins said. “Of course it does. We’ve been on the real raw end of that recently. What I would say is that Phoenix are finding they’re victims of their own success with the Open Cup. We all know the longer you go in the Open Cup, you’re going to be victims of that.”

With fixtures stacking up, Rising was forced to make a variety of changes to its Open Cup lineup in midweek.

“We just have to take inventory,” Schantz said after that match. “Find out who’s healthy, who’s not and if we’ll be able to change the team a bit.”

Aodhan Quinn, Kevon Lambert, Channing Chasten and James Musa all missed Wednesday due to injury. It’s unclear if they will be available for Rising against the Rowdies, although Lambert was left unmentioned in an injury report released by the team on Friday.

The Rowdies too are suffering with injury problems. Robert Castellanos will miss the match against Rising, while Sebastian Dalgaard and Lewis Hilton remain questionable after starting their return to training.

“We’re not privy to who’ll be back and who’ll be available [for Rising], but I think that’s always a challenge as well,” Collins said. “At this level, all teams carry relatively small squads, but when you talk about top-end quality players, when those guys are out it becomes more difficult.”

The Rising-Rowdies matchup was originally set to kick off at 5 p.m. on ESPN2. After initially being pushed back to 6 p.m. due to concerns over the heat, USL moved the game to kick off another hour later due to clashes with NHL playoff matches.

Despite the game being pushed back, it still is likely to be above 90 degreees through much of the match.

“We know it’s going to be hot, and it’s going to be just the way us Arizonans like to play soccer,” Schantz said. “We’ve got to try and use that as an advantage.”

“I’ve not experienced the desert heat, or the Arizona heat, but if it’s anything like the Florida heat, that’ll be a huge boost [kicking off later],” Collins added. “You’ve got to think about the players in these times. I’ve played at 4 o’clock in Jacksonville one afternoon and that was not enjoyable. That takes away from the quality of the game.”

The Sunday night clash will mark just the second time that Rising and the Rowdies have ever met. Both sides should have met in the 2020 league final, although a COVID outbreak in the Rowdies’ camp saw that match cancelled.

In a nationally televised matchup last season, the Rowdies won 2-1. Now Rising has the chance to get revenge as two of USL’s more successful sides of late meet again.

“We’re really excited to host Tampa,” Schantz said. “Very, very good team. Neill Collins is a fantastic coach. They play a very entertaining, aggressive, attacking style of football. It’ll be fun for the fans to watch, I know that.”

“There’s certainly a lot of respect on both sides for what they’ve achieved in the past few seasons, what Rick’s done since he’s been in charge” Collins added. “We want to test ourselves against the best. We expect a really, really tough game against one of the best attacking outfits in the league.”

“I’m sure we’ll feel the heat in Arizona from the stands and from the sun, but that’s the kind of thing that the players thrive on, so we’re looking forward to that.”

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