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With Phoenix Rising looking to get its season back on track, coach Rick Schantz admitted that its transition play just isn’t up to the same level as in past seasons.
“What we’ve learned about this particular team, and what I’ve learned is we’re not as explosive in transition as we used to be, but we’re actually really good when we get numbers into the attacking half,” Schantz said. “In all the games that we’ve played, when we can get sustained possession in the opposition’s half, we usually get really good counterpressing. We get good attacking moments. We create multiple shots in possession. But in transition, we’re just not as sharp as we used to be.”
Rising is on one of the worst runs of form in the team’s history, picking up just one point out of a possible 15. That’s left Phoenix sitting in 11th place, five points shy of the playoff line. However, the team has started to rectify some of its attacking woes, scoring eight times over three matches.
“We’ve kind of gone back to our DNA a little bit,” Schantz said. “I’ve talked about that in the past where we’ve started to do the things that we were doing in preseason. We’re getting numbers forward. We’re playing a little bit faster in possession. I think offensively, we know we can do it. We know what we’ve got.”
One outlet that Rising looks to use in its attack — particularly when pushing numbers up — is its full-backs. Left-back Baboucarr Njie recently featured against Loudoun United as a winger. However, with his future tied to the defense, he’s looking to utilize his attacking skills from the back line.
“Playing as a left-back gives me more leverage,” Njie said. “Teams don’t expect me to be that explosive in defence and attacking-wise as well to give balance when the team needs it.”
An element of balance could prove necessary in the team’s next match. Memphis 901 is a side that frequently looks to utilize quick counterattacks with pacy wingers. That’s could expose a Rising side that frequently finds itself caught in transition with its full-backs far up the field.
“They take a lot of risks going forward, but what I think makes them best is in their mid block, they’re very aggressive, very tight, very organized,” Schantz said. “We’re going to have to be very good in our creative or midfield third moving players around. Because they’re so aggressive in their middle block, they have a tendency at times to follow players. We just have to be able to move into spaces that have been vacated by others.”
Rising is departing on Thursday ahead of its Saturday clash in Memphis, although flight delays mean the team isn’t expected to arrive until the early hours of the morning. That isn’t something that Schantz sees as an issue, though.
“We’ll let them sleep in tomorrow morning,” Schantz said. “We’ll get them up at a decent hour for breakfast and then we have training mid-morning. Then you focus everything tomorrow on taking care of the body, all the treatments, all the massage, all the video and the review and rest and recover to be prepared for Saturday.”
For now, though, a mentality shift is the focus. Schantz has spoken about the need for accountability within the team in the past. Now, that’s going a step further.
“We can’t just say we want three points and then go and spend all afternoon doing whatever we want to do and not focusing on the task at hand,” Schantz said. “If you want to win three points, they’ve got to do work at home. They’ve got to do film. They’ve got to do extra, and I’m not talking about running and just training, that’s not it. It’s being really in tune with what we’re trying to achieve. They need to ask questions of the staff, and the staff needs to meet with each individual player and they’re doing it. It’s happening, and I’m seeing a big improvement in training performances.”
“That’s the only focus in the locker room right now,” Njie said. “Everybody is just focusing on getting three points, nothing less. The energy is transitioning from players’ heads down because we’re not used to losing and all that stuff, to now knowing that we have to be stronger.”
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