When the stadium lights go off at Casino Arizona Field and the USL Championship offseason is in full effect, Phoenix Rising FC goalkeeper Carl Woszczynski is the only player who remains in the Valley during the cooler months of the year.
The club’s clean sheet record-holder lives in Scottsdale year-around with his wife, Sam. For Woszczynski’s teammates, Arizona is only a seasonal home, presenting one of the off-the-field challenges that comes with playing in the USL.
For first-year forward Joey Calistri and goalkeeper, Zac Lubin, Arizona is where their second family lives.
Their home away from home is the Rising FC’s team apartment complex near Tempe Town Lake, where teammates are roommates, too.
“That’s a great thing about being here, which isn’t the same for other USL teams,” Lubin said. “I always have people around to hang out with and the guys are always doing something, playing cards or hanging out at the pool. It keeps me grounded and it’s built a better bond within the team, for sure.”
Lubin hails from Bozeman, Montana, where he developed a passion for nature and hiking. The 6-foot-6 goal-stopper said Phoenix’s mountains remind him of home. But the goalkeeper’s bond with his roommate, Canadian midfielder Alessandro Riggi, makes the grind doable.
In addition to the pair’s reserved space for foam rollers, massage balls and stretching mats in a corner of their living room, quiet time for other activities remains essential.
“The great thing about soccer is that it allows some extra time,” Lubin said. “We train in the mornings and have the afternoon off, so I find time to read and be active.”
At the top of Lubin’s current book list is Don Winslow’s novel “The Force,” a suspenseful thriller about a New York City cop. Lubin’s love for books — about world wars, sports psychology or fictional tales — is still a surprise to some people.
“I don’t think a lot of people expect it,” Lubin said laughing. “I think I’m a pretty open guy and I love to interact with the fans. I take a lot of pride and joy in signing autographs. But, I think the biggest thing is that I like to read books and I don’t act like it.”
Still, the goalkeeper said he finds it tough living so far away from his girlfriend, Brenna, who is in Chicago.
The Chicago suburbs are also home to winger Joey Calistri. In Phoenix, they’ve become closer.
Upon arriving to the team in 2018, Lubin knew Calistri from their offseason workouts together in Chicago. Their shared challenge of being away from the city only brought them closer.
And so did team karaoke.
Each preseason, Rising FC newcomers are initiated by singing in front of their new teammates at dinners.
Calistri chose Spanish midfielder Jose Aguinaga to be his partner in a March dinner at the AC Marriott Hotel in downtown Tucson.
“Teammates didn’t want us to do a duet, but we said, ‘Hey, if it’s good, you guys will appreciate it. If not, we’ll do it again,'” Calistri said.
The pair attempted to sing “Breaking Free,” the opening duet from the 2006 Disney film, “High School Musical.”
“We sang, and it was terrible.” Calistri said shaking his head. “Jose was off on every single note. We couldn’t do it, so we had to repeat it. We got booed and we repeated it. And got booed once more.”
Lubin went through a similar experience one year earlier, during the 2018 preseason after transferring from Swedish team, Ljungskile SK.
“When we were in Ecuador, everyone had to sing a song. I rapped ‘Juicy’ by The Notorious (B.I.G.),” Lubin said. “I think a big white boy from Montana coming in and rapping ‘Juicy’ — I think I was pretty successful, — and I think they thought, ‘He’s alright, he’s got good taste in music.’ “
The bonding process away from Rising FC facilities has continued, leading the team to greater chemistry and ultimately enjoying time in Arizona.
Rising FC’s closeness off the field has resulted in greater team chemistry on it.
However, life in the USL isn’t always so easy.
When they arrive for training each morning, the players follow the rock-filled dirt roads to the back side of the Phoenix Rising FC Soccer Complex, where training is set up next door to Casino Arizona Field.
There are few luxury cars in the parking lot and no player-reserved entrances. But Rising players said they have everything they need to win.
“My experience here is extremely different from when I was on loan to Tulsa,” Calistri said. “When I was there, we were training at a high school field, washing our own stuff. This isn’t anything against Tulsa, it’s just a different environment with different budget. Here, it’s a USL team in an MLS environment.”