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Phoenix Rising and consistency may almost be synonyms, but the team now has a new formational option: 4-4-2.
Rising offered a first glimpse of the new system against Valley United in the opening match of a preseason doubleheader.
“The main reason we did it is because Carlos Anguiano has been battling a little bit of a knee issue,” coach Rick Schantz said. “With Richie [Antwi] and Greg [Hurst], it kind of allowed us to try it and try that system a little bit.”
The switch to a new formation brought with it new challenges. This included the need to play with “a little bit more experienced group in midfield so they could deal with having one less guy,” according to Schantz.
That group included 35-year-old Luis Manuel Seijas, who has over 60 caps for Venezuela.
“You have to cover more ground, but when you have intelligent players on your side, it’s good,” Seijas said. “On the defensive side, you have to cover ground, but on the offensive you have more time and more space to just throw the ball side-to-side.”
Alongside Seijas was Arturo Rodriguez, a younger player better known for his attacking contribution. However, his growth over the offseason has helped him to contribute in a more versatile role.
“I think he’s more conscious of when he has to release the ball,” Seijas said. “Sometimes last year, I talk to him a lot, sometimes he was taking a lot of inefficient touches. Watching him on the last games, you can see now that he knows when to keep the ball, and he knows when to play fast and where he can be really dangerous.”
Another challenge of Rising featuring in the 4-4-2 is the choice of strikers. While Phoenix has three to choose from, not all can be paired well together.
“Well, you don’t want to have two forwards that are the exact same in that 4-4-2,” Schantz said. “I think, you know, Claudio [Repetto] brings kind of a target, hold up play, but so does Richie, just a little bit different in his style. I think Richie and Greg really paired extremely well together.”
Between them, Hurst and Antwi combined for three goals, with two assisted by the other. For Hurst in particular, the change in formation brought familiarity.
“I think that was easier for me because I played in a 4-4-2 all last year,” Hurst said. “I’m used to playing in a 4-3-3 as well, but it was nice to kind of go back to that and have a bit of normality there. You know, that’s what I’m used to. It kind of comes more natural to me.”
Rising’s performance against Valley United was undoubtedly the most dominant of its preseason. However, the quality of opposition was lacking compared to most USL Championship sides.
In fact, the main advantage of playing in a 4-4-2 is less likely to be present in regular season matches.
“You can see that when we have two forwards like that, we put a lot of pressure on center-backs,” Schantz said. “Teams that like to attack and let their full-backs go, it’s going to put them in big trouble. We’ve talked about it, but usually in our league not a lot of teams come here and let their full-backs go and attack with such reckless abandon.
“Instead of having five on our back line like we do in our 4-3-3, we end up with only four on the back line. I was surprised to see that Valley United was often man-to-man at the back with us.”
Still, having the 4-4-2 option in the pocket is one that senior Rising players with the squad are onboard with.
“I think it’s good that Rick is trying different stuff,” Seijas said. “No matter what the [formation] is, the idea and the core value of the team, of what we have to put on the field is the same, and I think that’s what we tried to show him last game.”