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In the midst of one of the worst runs in team history, Phoenix Rising general manager Bobby Dulle came to the support of besieged coach Rick Schantz.
“The belief is still there with the group,” Dulle said. “We know the talent level that’s in that room. We believe in the staff and everyone that’s over there that we’re going to get through this and work through this. We’ve stumbled. We’ve fallen down, but we’re going to get back up and we’ve got a good opportunity to here on Saturday against Orange County.”
Rising has lost four matches in a row, picking up just one win in its last seven league games. That drought has led to the unthinkable: Rising has fallen below the playoff line as the season’s halfway point nears.
“I think every match is important from here on out,” Dulle said. “We’re not where we want to be right now in the table and we have a history of a lot of success over the last five years and our expectations going into the season were higher. For us, going into Saturday night, every game from here on out is important, but you can’t win more than one game. So Saturday night, I know the guys in the locker room, I know the coaching staff, everyone’s working really hard and putting in the time and effort to get a result on Saturday.”
The current run of form is one of the worst in Rising’s history. It’s the first time that the team has lost four straight since rebranding to its current identity. The club record for consecutive league losses is five, which occurred when the team was named Arizona United.
“We’re looking at everything,” Dulle said. “First and foremost, the level of USL is getting better each and every year. You see the talent. You see more players being represented on their national teams. Obviously we’ve had some injuries, some key guys out for extended periods of time.
“Arturo Rodriguez is still out, who’s been a key contributor last year and when he’s on the field. James Musa, you look across the line, Kevon Lambert, Aodhan Quinn, Santi Moar are guys that have really produced for us that have been out, but that’s part of the game. There’s also the way the ball bounces. Every once in a while you need a break, and especially when the confidence isn’t quite as high, you even saw last week early in the match.”
Should Rising lose on Saturday, it’s possible that the team could reach the halfway point of the season second-to-last in the standings. Despite that, Schantz insisted that he isn’t distracted by the speculation about his future.
“All I can do is work hard, come here every day and give them everything that I have to the team and to the club, the players,” Schantz said. “We’re all in it together. As I said before, I don’t really have any say in those decisions. I don’t want to speculate about it. I don’t even want to think about it because it’s just negativity and we don’t need negativity right now. We need to be positive. The players need to be positive. We’ve got to stick together and as I’ve said in the past, these are the times where you find out who you trust and who trusts you, and hopefully become a better man for it.”
Dulle underscored his view that Schantz has what is needed to get out of the current situation. That includes the backing of the locker room — a statement backed by players Joey Calistri and Marcus Epps.
“He’s worked with a lot of talented players, including the players that are in the locker room right now,” Dulle said. “He knows what it takes to win this league. It’s not easy. He knows the resources that we have available as a club, and he has the locker room. The guys believe in him. They trust him. He’s going to go to battle. He’s going to keep working hard, and for that, you see again on [Friday] night, you saw the way the team responded and came out of the locker room at halftime.
“Again, he’s been someone who’s worked really hard his entire life to get to where he’s at. When times get tough, he’s just going to keep working harder. He’s also had some ups and downs here at the organization, and he’s always rebounded and responded really well and he’s willing to make changes. He’s willing to try to push different buttons, try to figure out some different things and I just know that he’s willing to put in the time and effort and also look in the mirror as well and figure out what he could do differently, the same way that we all are right now as a club.”
Despite growing vocal opposition from some areas of the club’s support, Schantz will remain in charge for now, Dulle said.
“All we can do is continue to look inward at ourselves and we encourage the fans to believe in the organization and believe in the information that we have, and that we have everything we need to be successful right now, and we believe in it,” Dulle said. “[There’s some] positivity within the group. I know they’re positive, and they’re going to come out of this thing. We’re going to show everyone that you can get knocked down, but you can get back up and ride this thing forward.”