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Three takeaways from Rising's loss in Las Vegas

Owain Evans Avatar
June 26, 2022

For the second time this season, Phoenix Rising lost on the road to the Las Vegas Lights. With just one home game remaining against the Nevadan side, Rising has lost the season series against Vegas for the first time.

The result also meant that Rising dropped four games straight for the first time under its current name, having last done so in 2016 as Arizona United. An additional loss would tie the club’s all-time record from 2015.

So what exactly can be taken away from the loss?

Tactical questions still abound

Rising’s tactical experiments continued in Vegas. After attempting a 4-4-2 at Loudoun, coach Rick Schantz felt that his side looked better featuring two strikers compared to the usual one.

It wasn’t another 4-4-2 display from Phoenix, though. Instead the side went with a 3-5-2, featuring Santi Moar and Joey Calistri as the wide players.

“We were trying to figure out how to get all the guys that we felt [were] our best players on the field and give them an opportunity to play together,” Schantz said. “In training, they were working hard. It looked good and we were ready to go. I think just again, as soon as they lose a little bit of confidence, they kind of go into a shell and don’t want to get close.”

It became apparent, however, that a deep-lying Rising side could do little outside of the first 15 minutes beyond inviting pressure on themselves and allowing Vegas to completely dictate the tempo. At varying stages throughout the first half, Lights’ possession hovered around 70 percent.

“Darnell [King] and James Musa were pulling [Joey] Calistri and Santi [Moar] way too deep,” Schantz said. “That wasn’t part of the plan, and I think it was just out of fear. Then the midfield couldn’t get close to theirs, so we had no chance to get any pressure on them.”

Rising’s struggles in the setup, which saw them enter the break down by two goals, led them to abandon that approach for the second half.

“I was furious with them,” Schantz said. “I thought way too many mistakes, zero quality and we went back to a 4-3-3, or a 4-2-3-1 and I said, ‘Enough. I’m going to stop protecting them with changes in the system and they have to start performing.'”

Team selection, especially forwards, raises eyebrows

A change in tactics necessitated a change in personnel, but some like-for-like replacements were also made.

Most notably, Rising’s leading goalscorer Greg Hurst found himself on the bench for the first half in Vegas.

“Greg didn’t have a really good performance last week, and I can’t just keep putting them out on the field when they’re not getting their job done,” Schantz said. “I think he was great in the second half, and that’s the response you want from a player.”

Instead, Hurst was replaced by Richmond Antwi, who Schantz conceded in the postgame interview was “not fit enough.”

Fellow striker Claudio Repetto was left at home by choice, with Schantz describing the decision to drop the target man who scored Rising’s only goal in the previous match at Cashman Field coming down to the fact that he “couldn’t bring everyone.”

According to Schantz, improvements will come down the line, but will require some currently injured players to be available for selection once more.

“I think that when Arturo and Luis get healthy, the way we played in the second half will be better,” Schantz said.

Schantz still blaming players

After several weeks of poor performances, Schantz was once again asked to reflect on where things were going wrong. It was clear from the coach’s postgame answers, however, that he still placed the overwhelming burden of blame on individual performances from players.

We have to play with desperation right from the beginning, and throughout the entire 90 minutes,” he said. “We just have too many minutes in the game. Guys that shouldn’t be making mistakes are making bad mistakes.”

Schantz singled out defender James Musa, not just for his positioning but also for his role in the third Vegas goal. Team captain Darnell King also found himself subject to criticism as he was subbed off at half-time.

“[He] wasn’t playing well,” Schantz said. “Too many turnovers, wasn’t aggressive. He was letting his forward come back and get the ball in midfield. He had the freedom to be tight and he just wasn’t doing it.”

With Rising sitting below the playoff line after picking up zero points in the month of June, Schantz was asked how much time he has to turn things around by simply stating: “I’m on contract for two more years.”

Following that, he once again defended the work that his coaching staff is putting in.

“Players have to step up right now,” Schantz said. “We’re working hard. We’re doing everything that we need to do. The staff is working extremely hard and we’re giving everything we can to them. I’m giving every second I have to this team and right now, some of the guys just aren’t stepping up at the right moments. But again, it’s still in there. We’ll keep going. We just have to keep going.”

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