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In the heat of the summer, at 6 a.m., the first car pulls into the parking lot at 38th Street and Washington.
Inside is Phoenix Rising’s head athletic trainer, Greg Spence.
“I always like to be the first guy here,” Spence said. “I like opening the door. I like turning the lights on. Chris Standring sometimes gives me a run for my money, and he’ll be sitting in his car, waiting for me to arrive, because I have the key and he does not.
“I get here, turn the lights on. I like to settle into the day before anybody else gets here so I can kind of just mentally prepare, I suppose. Get changed. Start setting up exercise stations if that’s what’s necessary. Turning on the TV.”
Spence has been with Rising since 2021, witnessing the high of winning the Pacific Division crushed by a first round exit at the hands of Rio Grande Valley. He’s seen Rising fall flat in 2022 before rebounding back to the USL Championship final just one year later.
Prior to joining Phoenix Rising, Spence’s background was in baseball, both at the collegiate level and with the Angels minor league system. Before that, though, he was a soccer player, filling in something of a utlitity role in high school before taking the field in college.
“Played is a bit of an overstatement,” Spence said. “They gave me a jersey and some shorts.”
Perhaps that’s for the best. There’s a certain irony in the fact that the team’s athletic trainer suffered an Achilles injury during a staff game in 2022.
Spence’s morning mostly focuses around preparation: getting equipment set up, taking care of a few scheduled appointments, and just checking in on each of the players. Then, it’s on to a meeting with the coaches.
“They’re very particular, very precise, which I think kind of feeds into a lot of the success that we’ve had,” Spence said. “You can’t discount or discredit when I go in there and they tell me exactly ‘Hey, we want somebody with water standing in this position. We want a tent moved into this position during this session.’ It’s very well thought out, very well planned.”
The 2023 season hasn’t been without its challenges. In particular, a large influx of new players at the start of the season led to not just a new set of people to understand better physically, but also to language barriers that had to be broken down.
“It’s been a lot of fun trying to get creative with what little Spanish I know, and what little English they know, to try and come up with a cohesive conversation,” Spence said. “But, I think both me as an individual, and them as a group, have come around a lot. We’ve grown a lot in our ability to communicate and meet each other’s expectations and goals.”
Now, the focus is on making sure that Rising’s players can push through for just one more matchday in the season. After a year of play, plus consecutive road games going beyond 90 minutes, Rising’s players are certainly in need of a little extra help.
“A lot of the guys are taking a different approach to their day,” Spence said. “I feel like they’re a little bit more diligent. They’re a little bit more engaging. They want to make sure that they’re at their peak, obviously, going into the game.
“They understand that it’s been a long season, bodies are tired. Minds are worn down. They’re really, really interested in making sure that they’re doing everything that they can to build themselves back up, so that they can be the most competitive.”
With that mindset, Spence believes that Phoenix Rising has a shot at taking the crown.
“In the postseason, talent got you this far,” Spence said. “Now, it’s determination, it’s drive that ends up, I think, winning championships. We have plenty of that.”
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