PHOENIX – When the Phoenix Rising Football Club takes the pitch Saturday night in El Paso against the Locomotive, a new – albeit familiar – head coach will roam the touchline.
Juan Guerra, 35, spent the 2021 season as an assistant coach with the Rising, a team that finished first in the Pacific Division. His work with Phoenix was enough to earn him a job as the head coach of the Oakland Roots Soccer Club. But with the Rising weathering a mid-season slump, general manager Bobby Dulle had to make a difficult decision in firing skipper Rick Schantz.
“We felt it was time for a new voice,” Dulle said. However, he had high praise for Schantz, saying “the club wouldn’t be where it’s at today without Rick’s involvement.”
The Rising, sitting at 8-11-5 and in 10th place in the Western Conference, are coming off an impressive 20-5-7 campaign in 2021. They were knocked out in the first round of the playoffs by Rio Grande Valley Football Club Toros.
This year, the Rising rolled to a solid start, going 7-2 to begin the season. This was enough to earn Schantz April’s Coach of the Month. Since then, the team has gone 3-10-5.
Less than a week after firing Schantz, the Rising tapped Guerra with the hope his vast playing experience will translate into success.
To make matters more interesting, the Rising and Roots face off Sept. 10. The Roots are currently 6-12-7, leaving them in ninth place in the Western Conference. As a part of the agreement for Guerra to become the new Rising head coach, the club agreed that he will not be coaching them during that game. Assistant coach Danny Stone will take over the duties that night.
“We’re certainly excited to to have him back in the mix with us leading the team… very confident that we got our guy,” Dulle said of Guerra.
Dulle stressed that this move is aimed at getting the Rising back to the postseason, as they currently sit five points out of a playoff spot with 10 matches left to play. He believes that Guerra has the characteristics of someone who can lead the club to a championship.
“His knowledge of the game, he played it at a very high level. He played all over the world,” Dulle said. This was one of many reasons why Guerra was at the top of their list. The former midfielder represented Venezuela in the 2014 World Cup qualifiers, along with playing for clubs in Europe, South America and the U.S.
The goal of the transition is to revert the Rising back to their old ways. “We would punish teams and put fear in the opponent,” Dulle said.
How does Guerra plan on doing that? “I like to be position-based in order to be able to create spaces and play through lines. We’re very offensive minded. We want to make sure that we attack with a lot of numbers,” Guerra said. “I intend to get to work immediately with the goal of helping Phoenix reach the playoffs. There is a lot of work to be done and no time to waste.”
Guerra wants the fans to know that he works with them in mind.
“We want to make sure that we put together a team on the field that the fan base feels identified with when they go to the stadium,” he said. “My family and I cannot wait to reunite with our fans and the community.”
Rising fans will get their first chance to see Guerra in his new role at Wild Horse Pass Wednesday night against Rio Grande Valley.