Switchbacks defender Josh Phillips attacked his rehabilitation with the same zeal he has when encountering an opposing forward - head on.
The Colorado Springs back-liner is one of the defensive stalwarts of the Western Conference third playoff seed entering a home playoff game at 7 p.m. Friday against Vancouver.
A shoulder injury suffered in late May and the time spent recovering from his first major injury made him even hungrier. It shows every day in games or on the practice field where he competes with a noticeable intensity and an almost reckless abandon.
He blocks shots, placing himself in front of some well-hit balls that smack him with a resounding thump that can be heard off the field.
"I believe you have to practice the way you want to play," he said. "Our team is one of the league best in shutouts (13) and goals against and that is something we take a lot of pride in."
His all-out approach is why he has started 18 games this season. His maturation as a gritty defender helped him play well this season, coach Steve Trittschuh said.
"That is part of his growth as a player, learning to pick and choose when he attacks," Trittschuh said. "It's why he and (defender Christian) Ibeagha have worked so well together. Josh is one of the younger guys who wants to advance to the next level and he has shown a willingness to give up his body to make the plays we need him to make."
Partnering up with fellow center back Ibeagha helped.
"He and I talk beforehand each game about which forwards we can bully and which will stand tall with the ball," Phillips said. "He covers for me if I go out on the attack and get caught (out of position) and me for him."
The 24-year-old Seattle native is determined to keep improving in hopes of reaching Major League Soccer and winning a United Soccer League championship.
But he's not quite so intense off the field.
The second-year-pro and former Gonzaga standout is one of the characters on the team with his practical jokes and ready humor. That side of Phillips makes him a favorite among his teammates.
"He can be a little wild," forward Miguel Gonzalez said. "He has a lot of fun off the field. But on the field, he is focused and works hard every day. Guys respect that. Every teams needs a guy who is willing to give up his body for the good of the team."