As return of season nears, Phoenix Rising schedule heavy on West Coast teams

Phoenix Rising defender A.J. Cochran said he’s most excited about “just getting back to playing games.” The United Soccer League schedule resumes July 11. (Photo by Joe Hicks/Getty Images)

PHOENIX – Just about two weeks away from the United Soccer League restarting, Phoenix Rising FC has been drawn into a group consisting of teams mainly from the West Coast.

Group B also includes La Galaxy II, Las Vegas Lights FC, Orange County SC and San Diego Loyal SC. These four teams plus the Rising will complete a 16-game season in which they play each team in their group three times.

In previous seasons, teams might play one another two or three times a year, but doing so in such a short time frame comes with challenges.

“It will be very difficult,” Rising coach Rick Schantz said. “There’s nothing more difficult than beating a team for the third time. The more you play an opponent, it’s just inevitable that they’re going to be able to figure out a way to tie or beat you. It’s a challenge we can’t wait to accept.”

The season is set to resume July 11.

Groups were made to ensure that teams would have to travel as little as possible. Schantz was hoping to stay in the West, and that is exactly what happened.

“I would like to not have to fly anywhere. That would be my first preference,” Schantz said. “I would love to not have to play in 100 degree-plus weather every game. (Playing) in San Diego 16 times wouldn’t be bad.”

Rising defender A.J. Cochran is ready to play whenever and wherever after not seeing the field for about three months.

“Just getting back to playing games,” he said. “It’s been so long since we have played a game. We went through obviously a tough preseason, and then started off our season on a great note with a 6-1 at home in front of our great fans.”

Another aspect that will be in play for this revised season is the introduction of five substitutions instead of the regular three. Schantz likes the thought of having flexibility in his club but also thinks too many substitutions could bring up issues.

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“We want to have as many subs as possible,” he said. “All that means is that now I got two additional players that are going to want playing time. Now (players) are going to have to warm up the whole game.”

Some teams, including Phoenix, have already played one or two regular season games before the season was suspended, meaning those teams will not be playing the entire 16 games.

The Rising will also play three additional games against non-group clubs to close the 13-week regular season.

Once the 16-game season is completed, the top two teams from each group will move on to the single elimination playoff format, which will include 16 teams from the 35.

Obviously, this season will look much different from previous seasons. From a 16-game schedule to five substitutions and a single elimination playoff format, General Manager Bobby Dulle is ready for anything.

“If we learned anything over these last couple of months, it’s that there is a lot to be learned,” Dulle said. “Everyday is a new day, and there’s new challenges, and we take those as opportunities to get better and to learn more.”

Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Nicholas Barker is from the Los Angeles area and expects to graduate in fall 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism. Barker is a sports reporter for Cronkite News.