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Rising heads back to Charleston, where the season began

Owain Evans Avatar
November 9, 2023
Phoenix Rising returns to Charleston where its season began

Charleston. It’s the city where the 2023 season began for Phoenix Rising, and it’s the city where the 2023 season will end.

“I talked to Juan [Guerra] on the phone yesterday or Tuesday,” Charleston Battery coach Ben Pirmann said. “We were chatting and I said ‘oh, I was watching our first game of the season. Make sure you spend some time, wasting time watching that film.’ It was more to literally just paint a picture for the team. It was 42 weeks ago.

“There are some things. There’s probably not going to be a whole heck of a lot of surprises, but maybe some details. Maybe more just to remind our guys more than anything. We know, Juan knows, their coaches know, we know, players just want to play. They want to be told what to do, go work their tails off. Maybe some of those pictures just to paint that a little bit, but not a whole heck of a lot.”

That game ended with the shares spoiled after Andrew Booth’s opener for the hosts was cancelled out by a Danny Trejo equalizer.

For both teams, rebounding from a season of missing the playoffs, that game was an important step back in the rebuilding process. Still, it didn’t quite carry the weight of Sunday’s clash.

“I don’t want it to feel like it’s just any other game, because it’s not,” Rising coach Juan Guerra said. “That’s the reality. I can’t give them that quote or that line that I actually don’t believe in. It’s not another game. It’s the final. We’re playing for something that this organization has never achieved before, and we want it. We want it very badly. We can’t approach this game the same way.”

Despite the length of time since the teams’ first meeting, both sides have extensive knowledge of each other, in no small part due to the close friendship between their coaches. Both Guerra and Pirmann are currently studying together on U.S. Soccer’s Pro Licence coaching course.

“[Charleston] is a team that is blue collar,” Guerra said. “They work so hard. They don’t give up, but at the same time, they’re talented as well. They have a good mix of youth and experience, and they can hurt you in multiple ways. We can expect a game that, if we’re going to get something from them, we’re going to have to earn it. They’re not going to give us anything easily.”

“[Phoenix] want to draw you in,” Pirmann said. “I use the term provoke. They want to provoke us out of our zones, so that then they can break the line and go fast […] whether that’s being direct from the backline over top, or diagonal. Whether that’s going into midfield to [Carlos] Harvey or José [Hernandez] or even [Panos] Armanakas, coming in from tucked in on that right side. They want us to move.

“That’s where we talk about two things: we have to shift our lines quickly. We have to be willing to run out of possession, whether that’s to hunt the ball and get possession, or whether that’s to close gaps. Then, the communication is key. They’re going to move parts around. It’s not going to be boring. They’re going to have wingers flying high. They’re going to have players tucked in. They’re going to drop guys from back to front, so it’s very sophisticated. Hopefully we can use that against them, but there’s going to be no surprises. We kind of know what they’re going to do. They’re going to know what we’re going to do.”

With both coaches playing chess as to the minor differences their opposite number could employ, Sunday’s match is likely to be a cagey affair. But Rising’s coach is fully behind his side to have the right mentality on the league’s biggest stage.

“Since game one, in Charleston, we’ve been approaching every single game as a final,” Guerra said. “So, this is not the first final this team has played this year. This team’s played multiple finals, and we hope we can get the job done Sunday night to achieve something that hasn’t been achieved before.”

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