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After a bumpy start to the season, Rising is looking ahead to having a full lineup available for selection.
Among those looking to return soon is James Musa, whose hole at the center-back position has opened room for experimentation. Yet what will happen next for the squad remains something of a mystery.
“I’m not sure,” Rising coach Rick Schantz said. “We still have another player that’s going to compete in that area as well. We have a lot of options.”
The injuries to center-backs mean that Joe Farrell is the only one who has been present in each match. Lining up alongside him has been Musa, Manuel Madrid or Kevon Lambert.
“It presents a little bit of a challenge, but we train together every day,” Farrell said. “The partnerships are there. They’re forming in practices.”
Of the partnerships, Lambert proved the most surprising. The Jamaican is typically a defensive midfielder in Rising’s lineup, although has appeared at the back for his national team.
By slotting in at the back, Lambert opened up space for Luis Manuel Seijas to enter the midfield. Expectations for the 35-year-old didn’t include him being a starter at the beginning of the season, but a string of positive performances have seen him turn into a fixture in the middle of the park despite his age.
“I was impressed because last week was a tough week,” Seijas said. “We played 30 extra minutes that we didn’t have on the budget. But the next day I was good. I wasn’t [more] sore. I was tired the normal way. I’m impressed by my shape. The numbers are like I’m 25 again, and I just need to continue that way, eating well, taking care of my body and training well.”
Quite how Rising lines up once Musa returns — be it with Lambert remaining in the back line and the midfield unchanged, or with him returning to his number six role — is unclear. This week, Rising’s coach suggested it could change based upon expectations for the opposition.
“There are some teams that are going to play with one ten and one forward,” Schantz said. “If they do that, do we necessarily have to play with double pivots because we outnumber them three to two? The idea is to have a team that is capable of making the adjustments in the game and changing the style of play.
“When we go into a game knowing we’re playing a team with two forwards that have some pace, then having the ability to put Kev on the back line gives us that little extra burst of speed, which is fantastic. When you’re just playing a team with a big target nine and double pivots, maybe you just want to put Kev in the midfield.”
Other positions too look to be in contention. Baboucarr Njie has returned to training for Rising, but didn’t feature in contact sessions early in the week. In his absence, Ryan Flood has been in Rising’s lineup at left-back.
“Ryan, up until I think the second half of LA, has been fantastic,” Schantz said. “Three games in a week for him was very difficult and he probably got fatigued, but he wasn’t closing down fast enough, leaving too much room for Cameron Dunbar.
“We’ve talked about it, but I think he’s done really well. The big thing for Ryan is continue to stay humble and keep working hard. When you get these opportunities you don’t let go of the position.”
In recent matches, Greg Hurst has filled a hole on the left wing. Hurst came into the season as an option at center-forward, but the team’s poor start coupled with injuries allowed him to adopt his spot on the flank. With Santi Moar likely to miss at least Saturday’s match because of an ankle strain, it’s likely that Hurst could be back out on the left.
“I think Greg brings a lot to us in possession because he doesn’t lose the ball,” Schantz said. “His versatility is very good for us, especially now with us playing maybe inside-out, or playing a little bit more on the break and having a guy that’s going to make a good pass when he receives it.
“He’s a good player. He’s very smart. I think he’s still adjusting to the speed and the physicality of USL Championship, but he’s done a good job and I’m impressed with what he’s done so far.”
Overall, the selection dilemma forced by injured players returning is being welcomed by Rising’s coach.
“For me, it’s fantastic,” Schantz said. “It gives me some tactical adjustments to match up man to man, or how the opposition plays, without changing too much how we play as a team.”
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