TEMPE – Sometimes, a win can be worth more than just a win.
“It’s very important to be remembered,” Phoenix Rising captain Solomon Asante said. “To make history is very important. So we are making everything possible like you saw today at training. We are doing everything possible for tomorrow’s win so that our name will be written in the record book and then people will remember us.”
Rising has won nine straight matches, one short of FC Cincinnati’s league record of 10 set last season. They can tie that record at Friday’s Dollar Beer Night when they host Austin Bold.
“Austin beat us 1-0 when we were there,” coach Rick Schantz said. “We set out this year that we would try to get four points minimum off of every team in the league, and the best we can get is three against Austin.
“The rest of the stuff is, well, it’s pressure from the outside world. It’s not what’s important to us.”
Schantz later backtracked slightly, admitting that the team wants to be remembered, and that he understands the gravity of the achievement involved.
The team has made it this far in no short part due to the combined success of forward Adam Jahn and winger Solomon Asante. Between them, they’ve scored 16 goals over the nine-game run – just over half of the team’s total goal tally.
“It’s such an honor,” Jahn said of playing alongside Asante. “He’s such a good player and you just can’t stop him. I benefit from that, and so does everyone else on the team. We’re lucky to have him.”
It isn’t just their goal-scoring habits that are driving the team forward, though.
“Solo is willing to track back and to double down, and Adam Jahn is willing to cut off passing lanes to number sixes and to pressure goalkeepers,” Schantz said. “They just lead by example. So I think it’s not necessarily the goals and the assists that they’re getting, but it’s the work that they do defensively and the work that they’re doing off the field that everybody sees.”
Rising is in first place on 38 points, with Austin three spots and nine points behind. Yet, while the team is confident of another victory Friday, they also know that it will be a challenge.
“They’re one of two teams that beat us,” Jahn said. “That says a lot. We didn’t start the season well, but they still beat us, and they could do it again. We know that.”
“We lost to them and then we were not happy,” Asante said. “Especially after the game, I was not happy and then I started shouting, talking a lot.
“For me, going into this game is something different. We’re prepared mentally, physically, everything. We are well-prepared for this game. We are going to give them a tough game and I believe we are going to win.”
A lot has changed at Rising since then. In fact, the team had only won one game prior to their previous meeting against Austin. Schantz believes that the changes in Phoenix’s squad from then to now have put the hosts head and shoulders above their opposition.
“We know what to expect,” he said, “but I don’t think they’re quite ready and unless they do a lot of film work, it’ll be a challenging environment for them.”
Still, there will be absences for Rising on Friday. Corey Whelan, Rising’s new defensive signing, hasn’t yet made it to the Valley. Kevon Lambert, who missed about a month playing for Jamaica at the Gold Cup, is away for Olympic qualifying. Collin Fernandez, who has been featured in nine games in midfield for Phoenix this season, has been sold to Saint Louis.
“For Collin, it was really for him,” Schantz said. “I hate to see a player move on, but when I spoke to him, I said: ‘Collin, I’m not going to keep opportunities from players. This is out there. It’s a chance for you to go somewhere get a fresh start and possibly play.’ He knew that with Jose (Aguinaga), Kevon Lambert, James Musa, Jon Bakero, that it might be a little tough here so it was just an opportunity.”
So with a win streak and Dollar Beer Night bragging rights on the line, is the team feeling the pressure?
“No, there’s never any pressure on us,” Jahn laughed, before pointing to his head. “It’s all up here.”