Phoenix Rising head coach Rick Schantz and his players are gearing up to start the 2020 season Saturday, March 7, against Portland Timbers 2 FC at Casino Arizona Field. The pressure for success is felt by everyone as they try to regain their title of regular season USL Championship winners.
The team had a record-breaking 2019 season with the longest winning streak (20 games). Other accolades for the 2019 season include Schantz winning USL Championship Coach of the Year and forward Solomon Asante winning the USL Championship Most Valuable Player and the Golden Boot awards.
“To follow what we did last season will be difficult, but I think it’s a challenge that all the guys have accepted,” Schantz says. “They know that we have some unfinished business. Here at Phoenix Rising we want to win trophies.”
Following last year’s regular championship win, the team doesn’t see itself as having competition.
“I can’t single anyone out as far as competition, but I know that everyone wants to be Phoenix Rising,” says Schantz, whose contract was extended in January for three years.
“Knowing that I get to be here for at least three more years is kind of a dream,” Schantz says.
Schantz looks forward to building stronger relationships with his players and having a mutual trust and respect.
“I think of these guys all as like sons or brothers,” Schantz says. “Knowing that I’m 20 years older than them, maybe I can impart some wisdom on them.”
In the offseason, Phoenix Rising added nine players to the squad, including midfielder Jordan Schweitzer.
“I think my expectation for this season is that we make playoffs,” Schweitzer says. “It’s one of the reasons I wanted to come here. I wanted to be on a team that not only has the quality to get in the playoffs, but to push toward the USL Final.”
Schweitzer previously played for Seattle Sounders (2016), Orlando City B (2017) and Colorado Springs Switchbacks (2018-2019) before joining Phoenix Rising in December.
“I’ve been around to a couple of clubs before, and obviously when an opportunity comes up like this to join the Rising, you look at it very seriously,” Schweitzer says. “I’m happy to be here.”
Zac Lubin is returning to the goal for the third season. He’s eager to see how the season plays out.
“Last year obviously was a record-breaking year, but I think expectations are a little higher because there were 14 games that we didn’t do so well,” Lubin says. “I think we’re going to be more consistent this year.”
As the 2020 season starts, Schantz and the players shared why they love soccer.
In addition to building close relationships with his players, Schantz’s favorite part about soccer is being on the freshly cut grass in the morning.
“We’ll walk out here in Phoenix every day and look around and say, ‘This is work?’” Schantz says. “I just love being on the field.”
Schweitzer enjoys traveling around the United States and Canada and meeting new people from around the world.
“I think at the end of the day, when I’m done playing, it’s going to be the people who I have met through the game, the places that I’ve been and the experience I’ve had that I’ll remember,” Schweitzer says.
Lubin loves the frantic feeling on the field during a game. He considers it as a form of meditation.
“We enjoy the games with 70,000 people here,” Lubin says. “When you’re in the action playing, you’re just out there by yourself and you don’t even realize it.”
The players agreed that the day after training sessions.
“I’m already thinking about what I have to do to be at my best the next day,” Lubin says. “It’s my nutrition, hydration and recovery. Everything. It’s 24 hours a day.”
Schweitzer and his teammates are required to constantly take care of their bodies on and off the field to be able to perform at a high level.
“I think the toughest thing in being a soccer player, especially being a professional athlete, the toughest thing is that when you’re done, we’re not done,” Schweitzer says. “For 10, 11 even 12 months of the year, depending on how dedicated you are to this, there is no off time.”
When the coach and players do get some off time, they enjoy spending it with family and being outdoors.
“I’m usually spending time with my daughter and my wife,” Schantz says. “Being home for dinner and spending time with family is probably the most important thing—and an occasional round of golf.”
Schweitzer is getting used to living in Arizona and finding new places to go and experience new things.
“I do a lot of reading,” Lubin says. “I love the outdoors: hiking and camping. Anytime I get a day off I try to get myself into the mountains or on a trail somewhere.”
The 2020 season sees the return of the Friday $1 Beer Night matches starting May 1 against Rio Grande Valley FC. It proved to be good lucky, as the club won or tied 16 beer nights.
Phoenix Rising Football Club will give back to the community during four Supporter Cause Nights—March 28 vs. Austin Bold FC, April 25 vs. OKC Energy FC, June 6 vs. El Paso Locomotive FC and September 12 vs. LA Galaxy II. The identified community causes for this season include one that helps people with vestibular disorder and then for organizations Phoenix Children’s Hospital, PFLAG Phoenix and Arizona T.O.P.S.
The 2020 Phoenix Rising season starts March 7 against Portland Timbers 2 FC here in Arizona and ends October 17 against Sacramento Republic FC in Sacramento.