Phoenix Rising FC head coach Rick Schantz is hopeful that the team can resume its season in July after the coronavirus pandemic put a stop to play in March.
This week, the USL — the league in which the soccer club plays — allowed teams to have training sessions at their facilities once again. Phoenix Rising did so, bringing players back to Casino Arizona Field for training on Monday. Players had to get their temperatures taken and train in groups of four, and there was to be no contact during drills.
“You never know what’s kind of on the horizon, so you have to be prepared,” Schantz told Arizona Sports’ Doug & Wolf on Friday.
“Our league is a little different than most in that all of our players live in the same apartment complex. You could almost say that they’ve been quarantined as a group for seven weeks.”
As Schantz noted, other leagues like the Bundesliga in Germany are already set to get underway. So when will that day come for the USL?
“You hear some of these leagues around the world trying to finish up,” Schantz said. “Major League Soccer is talking about a potential plan to start playing. It bodes well. We’re praying for July because that would be about a six-week preseason from this point. Anything longer than that, I think all the players and the coaching staff is going to go a little bit crazy.
“For me, it would pretty awesome if it were around Fourth of July. I think that would be super cool just for our community in general and maybe something to really celebrate. Even if there’s no fans, being on TV would be pretty awesome as well.”
Schantz praised the ownership group, which has continued to provide pay and housing for players in the midst of the season stoppage.
“We have an amazing ownership group and there hasn’t been one missed paycheck,” Schantz said. “They haven’t even discussed it or thought about anything along those lines, they’ve been extremely supportive of the guys, the apartments are taken care of for the players. These guys don’t have millions of dollars in savings that they can survive five or six months without pay or some sort of a 20% reduction.”
In Major League Baseball, some players have expressed a level of discomfort or skepticism over returning, since there is risk involved in gathering together during a pandemic. Schantz said the feedback from his players is they’re in favor of returning to the pitch.
“I asked our guys, each one of them individually over this seven week period, at some point, when we start training and we start playing, is there anybody that doesn’t feel comfortable?” Schantz said. “Every one of the players on our team and our roster has felt comfortable with our protocols. I’ve kept them in the loop the whole way and not a single player has said that they don’t want to play.
“Now I think sometimes when you’re talking to your coach, it’s a little bit different. But for the most part, this group, you should see their smiling faces when they’re out on the field and how much they love to play the sport. And again, some of them are not getting paid very much money and this is what they love to do. So I’m impressed that this group is willing to come out no matter what and train and work hard.”
And if players are happy to be back, how does the coach feel?
“Let’s just put it this way: I have a renewed appreciation for how much I loved being on the field,” Schantz said. “When you’re a manager or a coach at this level, there’s a lot of things. You’re talking contracts, marketing, advertising, ticket sales, new players, scouting, you name it. You’re in the office all day long, you’re watching the opponents and you’re doing everything you can.
“But that 75-80 minutes you get to spend on the field is pure joy. And when something takes it away for seven weeks, to be able to come back our here with this group of players, oh my gosh, I can’t tell you how happy I am.”