The start of Phoenix Rising’s 2021 campaign is right around the corner.
A year ago at this time, PRFC was competing against MLS squads in a preseason tournament at Casino Arizona Field.
Fast-forward to now, and you’ll see the club champing at the bit to start preseason at the new practice fields and facilities at Gila River’s Wild Horse Pass.
“All the guys are starting to come into town this week. I’m excited, I can’t wait to get started with preseason,” manager Rick Schantz told Arizona Sports’ Doug & Wolf on Wednesday.
For the nine returning players, the mantra has been the same since the club lost in the USL Cup Final in 2018: unfinished business.
“I do know that the returning players are very, very motivated and very focused,” Schantz said. “Every single one of them talks about unfinished business and we have some work to do. So we’re definitely going to go after it and do everything we can to get back.”
The 2019 Manager of the Year added that the first official on-pitch training session will be March 7. But before that, the team will have meetings on March 3, 4 and 5 where they will undergo physicals and intake evaluations.
As things stand right now, however, Phoenix only has 15 players signed to its senior squad — not including academy contracts. Schantz has always preached being “two-deep” at every position in order to create competition in training.
“When we say two deep, we don’t talk about a starter and a reserve,” Schantz explained. “The way we look for players is an All-League player and then a player that can compete for All-League every year. … The competition is going to be unbelievable.”
And with the expansion of the transfer window for MLS and USL, we could see Phoenix sign players once the season has already started — something that usually only happens during the summer transfer window. Schantz added that the club still needs to sign a couple of defenders and maybe even another forward.
“We’re being a little patient this year just to see what happens with MLS,” he said. “They’ve expanded our transfer window … so we’re kind of waiting for a few leagues around the world to finish up and see what we can get in early May.”
Two of Phoenix’s more attack-minded signings this offseason were Mexican forward Ivan Gutierrez and midfielder Arturo Rodriguez. And while they can all speak English, don’t expect to hear them speaking English on the pitch with the likes of Spaniards Jon Bakero and Santi Moar.
“I’m really excited this year because I think we have more Spanish-speaking players and staff than we ever have before and it’s just going to keep growing,” Schantz said. “For me, it’s very important to be multi-cultural. We can’t just focus on one.
“America is about many, many people coming together and that’s what our locker room is about here at Phoenix Rising. It’s important to me that we have all the different cultures represented and they all speak the same language of football, or soccer.”