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In the team’s first preseason game visible to the outside world, Phoenix Rising pulled off a 2-1 victory over Sporting Kansas City of Major League Soccer.
The game was a key confidence booster and featured bright spots from some of the club’s new signings. However, a couple of injury scares at the back could prove a minor setback to Rising’s 2022 preparations.
Major league confidence boost
A year ago, Rising struggled to piece together preseason wins. The team couldn’t muster a single victory over MLS opposition. Phoenix’s lone 90-minute preseason win came against FC Tucson.
This year, things are different. Just two games in, Rising has taken its first preseason victory and the confidence boost that accompanies it.
“I think it’s very important, especially against a good side like Kansas City,” Rising defender Darnell King said. “I mean, that’s a big kudos to us. Obviously, it’s a boost for us to keep moving forward in preseason, and hopefully we keep carrying on and getting into this winning mentality.”
“It’s not just the result,” coach Rick Schantz added. “It’s being able to play out of the pressure, being able to play at that speed with those guys. I mean, these guys are two weeks ahead of us, and they’re very good and very intense and very aggressive. We still showed the ability to knock the ball around. That’s extremely important. So, I think that the confidence doesn’t come just from the result. It comes from how the team played, and I think they’re going to be really happy tonight.”
Repetto involved in first-half goal
In the hours before this preseason match, Rising unveiled Claudio Repetto as another option at center-forward. He started the match, lasting about 30 minutes before making way for Greg Hurst.
While his time on the field might have been short, Repetto found a way to make his presence count. His light flick of the ball allowed King to break through the back line, leading to the Rising’s equalizer.
“I thought some of the guys were fantastic,” Schantz said. ” It’s good to see Claudio, and he showed his strength in flicking the ball on for Darnell.”
“He’s active,” King said of Repetto. “He likes to receive balls in dangerous areas. He’s comfortable. He’s not shy to ask for it in those areas, so that’s what we want in a big target striker like that because we have wingers that are lethal and will get in behind and outside backs that like to run forward. It was good that we could start making those connections with him and good to see his attributes there.”
Despite his involvement in the goal, there were still some teething problems introducing the new striker to the side.
“He still has to learn quite a bit about how we defend forward when we press, when we’re aggressive, when we’re not,” Schantz said. “I thought he was dropping in too deep in our defensive moments, so when we won the ball, he wasn’t as high as I would like him to be. In the normal run of play, his positioning was very good.
“I think that he’s going to be a great outlet for us. If we want to play long and direct, he’s going to be very good.”
First look at Channing Chasten
The match against SKC provided a first opportunity to see Channing Chasten come up against professional opposition.
Chasten, 21, signed for Rising out of Ohio State. He grew up in Queen Creek, and will offer backup going forward and at the back on the right.
“I thought today was a really good match for him,” Schantz said. “He improved. He’s showing that he’s learning and that he can listen. He’s very coachable, and that’s massive at this stage in his career. To come out of college and to be put in a situation like this against some very, very good professionals, I’m happy for him.”
Chasten featured in the second half at right-back, replacing King and sharing with him the distinction of playing a key role in the build-up of a goal.
“Obviously he went down there and got the handball in the box for us to score the winning goal,” King said. “I think that’s great. That’s positive for him, and obviously we’ll keep building on this. There’s things we all have to work on, and he knows what he has to work on, but that was great for him to build that confidence.”
Chasten was introduced as a right-back after the break, but his positioning at times seemed aggressive — even when considering the attack-minded style often employed by Schantz’s teams. Prior to provoking the handball, the right-back made his way to the opposition penalty area on a couple of occasions, including forcing a one-on-one with the opposition goalkeeper.
Schantz said that wasn’t simply down to Chasten, but had more to do with the play of Marcus Epps on the wing ahead of him.
“I think Marcus helped him out quite a bit because Marcus was really good coming inside and receiving his ball with back to goal,” Schantz said. “That’s an awesome surprise, because if Marcus can receive it and turn, and you’ve already got Channing high or Darnell in that situation, you’re going to be two-v-one and that makes us very, very dangerous. Channing was just doing what he was supposed to do. If the winger goes inside, you’ve got to get high and I’m happy for him because he’s listening and he’s getting better.”
Early injury worries at the back
The sight of Joe Farrell beckoning for a trainer in the second half was one of great concern. Earlier in the match, Manuel Madrid was taken off after picking up an injury himself.
As it was, Farrell was able to see out the match. Madrid, however, could be sidelined for a brief period of time.
“I think Manu might have strained his groin a bit but it’ll be a short one,” Schantz said. “They said maybe a week or something like that. We’ve been pushing them hard physically, and that’s the risk with preseason when you play games that are intense. Their body might not be ready for it.”
With youngster Niall Dunn not dressed, Farrell’s departure would have left James Musa as the only contracted center-back available.
A pair of trialists — unnamed players not signed to a contract but available for preseason — did feature, but Rising’s coach was coy when pressed over seeking reinforcements before the regular season kicks off.
“I don’t know,” Schantz said. “We still have two or three weeks of preseason, so we’ll see.”