By Stephen Perez/for Somos Sports
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Phoenix Rising FC is closing out another successful regular season in the United Soccer League.
Last weekend the Rising clinched its second straight playoff berth with their win over Seattle Sounders FC 2 1-0.
Head Coach Rick Schantz said that making the playoffs is great for the franchise but it is just the first step.
“Playoffs for this league are important and it is important for our franchise as well,” he said. “From the beginning of the year making the playoffs was just one goal, we still have higher expectations to achieve this season.”
The goals the team has made for itself consist of progressing the franchise by eclipsing accomplishments achieved in the past seasons.
“I think it is more important to point out that we are one win away from breaking the franchise record for most wins in a season,” Schantz said. PRFC did just that Saturday with a 2-1 win over Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC.
“Also if we can at least end up in the top four, it will be the highest finish ever by a Phoenix Rising team.”
The team finishing in one of those top four spots seems to be more of a reality as the regular season winds down. Phoenix currently sits in the second spot in the USL Western Conference standings trailing Orange County SC by one point for first place, with a game in hand.
Schantz said the best way to approach achieving these goals is to think one game at a time.
“The biggest thing for our team is to focus on just one game thinking strictly about the Switchbacks this weekend and trying to get three points tomorrow,” he said earlier in the week.
Phoenix Rising forward Chris Cortez said the team has set their sights on reaching for one of the top two spots in the conference, especially that top spot.
“For us, it is really much more than just making playoffs,” he said. “We have really set a goal to get first or second in the league and really try and push for that first place finish.”
In the USL, the playoffs consist of eight teams and the top four teams in the standings host the bottom four. The higher the standing the more likely the club will be to host more matches throughout the playoffs.
Cortez said grabbing that first place spot would be great because it comes with those advantages of playing a lot of the games at home.
“Getting first place is definitely the goal because you get to play the games at home,” he said. “The advantage that brings with having our fans and the atmosphere they bring and also not having to travel and other circumstances give us the best advantage to win a championship.”
Cortez is in his third season with Phoenix and in that span has scored a total of 28 goals. This season has been his best performance as he is the top scorer on the team with 16 goals.
He said he credits his individual success this season to the routine he set for himself.
“It is about doing the same things week in and week out and trying not to change too much and staying in the same routine and approaching every game the same kind of way,” he said.
Cortez said it is nice to be able to contribute to their successful run this season but he also knows the job is still not complete.
“It has been nice but the job is not done yet and we still have a few more weeks to get it done,” he said. “We have obviously found a formula that has been pretty successful so let’s continue to do that and improve.”
Forward Billy Forbes said the team has the talent to make a strong run in the playoffs.
“I think with our lineups and our guys we have coming in and out is really great,” he said. “ Anybody can do any of the jobs on the field and that is one of the things that I look forward to.”
The Rising has four games left in the season and it will be facing three teams the club could possibly see in the playoffs.
Forbes said the players are ready for anything even if that is playing a team multiple times to move forward.
“Someone always told me to be the best you have to beat the best,” he said. “So if we have to play somebody twice in the playoffs we will do that. It is just part of the game.”