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Schantz hails versatility as Rising continue to improve

Owain Evans Avatar
April 20, 2022

Three games into the season, Phoenix Rising had more losses than wins for the first time since 2017 and desperately needed to improve. Coming off a four-goal spell in which the club has conceded just one goal, coach Rick Schantz can breathe a little easier.

“I’m really proud of the guys,” Schantz said. “They’ve turned it around, and I think they’ve done it strictly on grit and willpower and a desire to compete.”

Defensively, Rising has benefited most from a move that has seen Kevon Lambert slot into the back line. The Jamaican product has won more than two-thirds of his duels attempted this season, plus 80 percent of balls in the air. He also leads Rising in interceptions with 15, and has more broadly provided a more mobile option on defense.

Yet even where the defense has faced more of a battle, Ben Lundt in Rising’s goal has stepped up. Lundt previously won the USL Championship goalkeeper of the year award while with Louisville City. He showed off that pedigree in his clean sheet against New Mexico that earned him league player-of-the-week honors.

“His performance for us was definitely capable or worthy of that,” Schantz said. “Not just the penalty save he made at the end, but the save that led to our goal. There was a couple of others that were very significant. I think the kick save when they got behind us was huge. He played with a lot of confidence so I’m glad he was rewarded.”

Rising’s struggles defensively had been born of struggles at the back. Transitional defense has been highlighted in the past as an issue, but problems in the attack haven’t helped.

“I think in the final third we’re playing a bit tentative, and we’re losing the ball,” Schantz said. “If we’re losing possession in front of their defense, it sets up for a bad situation going the other direction.”

On that issue, Rising still has room to improve. Further, Rising’s coach points to issues with crossing, plus a reluctance to take shots from distance when struggling to penetrate the opposing defense.

One of the few exceptions to the latter is Luis Manuel Seijas, who has scored three goals from distance and set up another.

Another example of solid performances in the final third can be seen from Greg Hurst. Hurst — now playing on the left in Santi Moar’s vacant spot — was named an honorable mention for the league team of the week.

“Greg is extremely technical, very, very good soccer player,” Schantz said. “He’s very intelligent, very understanding of his positions. He can play wide on the left. He can play as a nine, as combo forwards in a 4-4-2 [or] 3-5-2. He’s a guy that understands the game. The only thing Greg needs I think is a little bit more strength, a little bit more endurance and maybe a little bit more quickness.

“It’s difficult to improve your quickness and speed, but like Arturo [Rodriguez], I think a year in the Championship for Greg and you’re probably going to see an all-league player next year if he doesn’t do it this year, because he’s playing really well right now. A lot of that has to do with his intelligence.”

After three league wins in a row, Rising seems in a much more comfortable position than it was just a few weeks ago. That doesn’t mean the team is out of the woods yet, though.

“In years past, we could go on a field and I think the teams were afraid,” Schantz said. “This year, those couple of early results that went against us were some chinks in the armor and probably created confidence for opposition in our league. We’ve had to be a little bit more versatile and kind of change.

“I told this group that this is the season where I think we have to be a little bit chameleon like and be able to change and adapt and still get results. They’re proving that they can do that. I’m very proud of them for that.”

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