Rick Schantz could only rub his beard and exhale. The Phoenix Rising FC manager knows, after all, that what his team did last Saturday night is unsustainable.
“That would be a miracle if anybody could play like that for 90 minutes,” Schantz said of the energy Phoenix displayed in the final 20 minutes of its 2-2 comeback draw against San Diego Loyal.
Harnessing some of that energy, though, has been a focus of Schantz’s week as the Rising aim to bounce back from their first draw of the season on Saturday at 7:30 p.m., against Tacoma Defiance, the Seattle Sounders’ reserve team, at their Wild Horse Pass home field.
“The last 20 minutes was like double of what we normally are,” Schantz said. “So I would never look to our team to play like that for 90 minutes. The guys just couldn’t physically manage that. … The bigger question for me is how do we raise our level of intensity in the first 45 minutes?”
Phoenix’s comeback Saturday was buoyed by a tactical change, as Schantz moved to a double pivot with two holding midfielders in attempt to counter San Diego’s first half midfield dominance. The move came after the Rising’s typical midfield trio was forced into change by the absences of starters Kevon Lambert and Aodhan Quinn.
Lambert, who missed the game while on international duty with Jamaica in Japan, is out for one more game before he returns to Phoenix on Sunday. Quinn, meanwhile, was out of practice Tuesday as he continues to recover from a hamstring injury, though Schantz said he’s hopeful the midfielder will be ready to play Saturday.
Regardless of Phoenix’s personnel, Schantz knows that playing with intensity will be critical against a young Tacoma team that started eight teenagers in a 2-0 loss to the Las Vegas Lights last weekend.
“Tacoma, they have some really, really good attacking players and they’re gonna really challenge us,” Schantz said. “… Very, very good training habits. This is the sign of an amazing academy.”
But while that youth poses a challenge for the Rising, it also provides an opportunity.
“This is where we have to use our experience, we have to use our size and power and we have to dominate them physically,” Schantz said. “It was the same thing when Vegas was here. They’re very young and we have to intimidate them.”
In that game, the Rising had its foot on the gas from the start, scoring a second-minute goal en route to a 5-1 win. Against San Diego, with two starters out, that early intensity was lacking, forcing a frenetic stoppage time comeback.
And as happy as Phoenix’s resolve made Schantz, he’s hoping to save a few heart palpitations this go around.
“While it feels great that we came back from 2-0,” Schantz said, “you need to win your home games.”