Phoenix Rising FC travel to Weidner Field in Colorado Springs, Colorado to play Colorado Springs Switchsbacks FC on Saturday, August 31, 2019. It is the second and final USL Championship regular season match-up of the year between these clubs, and also counts in the standings for the inaugural Four Corners Cup. Phoenix comes into the match on a 16-game-winning-streak. They have not lost or drawn since May 4, 2019, and are coming off a 4-2 victory over Tacoma Defiance on Tuesday. They are runaway leaders in the Western Conference, holding a 12 point edge over 2nd place Fresno FC (although with one additional game played). Their 68 goals scored are 15 more than any other team in the Western Conference, and they are now just 7 shy of the all-time USL record of 75 by Reno 1868 FC in 2017. Things have been much different for Colorado Springs, as they have scored just 24 goals in 26 games so far this season. To put that into perspective, Phoenix's Solomon Asante has 19 goals and 13 assists by himself this season. On the defensive end, things haven't been much better, as they have allowed 59 goals, which adds up to a -25 goal difference, and the 3rd worst record in the conference.
To give and idea of just how far apart these two sides are, Colorado comes into the match with 6 wins on the season, while Phoenix comes in looking for their 6th win in the month of August. Colorado has been in especially bad form recently, as they are winless in their past 6 matches. They have been outscored by a total of 16-6 over that period, and have been shut out 3 times over that period. They do have a couple of things going in their favor, one being rest, as they last played on Saturday, giving them two additional days of rest over Phoenix, who last played on Tuesday. The other being that in Colorado Springs, the thin air at 6000+ feet of elevation gives them a decided advantage in the same way that Phoenix's 100 plus degree weather gives them and edge at Casino Arizona Field. In fact this advantage is so significant that 5 of Colorado Springs's 6 wins have some at home this season. They are 5-2-6 at home compared with 1-2-10 on the road, meaning 17 of their 22 points have been earned at Weidner Field this year. This split has been even more pronounced in their last 8 matches, as they are 0-0-4 away and 2-2-0 at home. In fact, they have not lost at home since since July 4, 2019 against Orange County SC.
Colorado Springs Switchbacks vs Phoenix Rising Vital Information
Referee assignments have the referee as Brad Jensen, with Jacob Herold and Bhavik Dutt as the assistants, and Bradley Miller as the 4th official. On the discipline report, Phoenix will have defender Doueugui Mala, back after he served his one game suspension on Tuesday. The Jordan Burt of the Switchbacks is on the caution list, as is Phoenix's James Musa. These players are just one card away from his fifth on the season, which would result in a one-game-suspension.
This will be the 11th meeting all time between Phoenix Rising and Colorado Springs. In the previous 10 meetings, Colorado Springs has won 5 times, Phoenix has won 4 times, and there has been 1 draw. It was a 2-2 win at Phoenix when the two last met on March 30, 2019. Although Colorado Springs leads the all-time series, they have not beaten Phoenix since beating them 3-0 in the U.S. Open Cup on June 16, 2016. Their last league win against Phoenix, came a month earlier, on May 21, 2016. This has been an interesting series in that Colorado won the first 5 match-ups, then Phoenix won the next 4, before they drew in their previous meeting.
Five Points That Shouldn’t be Overlooked
Each of the past few weeks, I have written about an unsung hero stepping up with a big goal for the Phoenix Rising. In Tuesday' wild come from behind victory at Tacoma, all 4 Phoenix goals game off of the foot (or head), of one of Phoenix's "Big 3'. Most importantly, striker Adam Jahn got back on track with a brace, after going scoreless in his previous 5 matches. He had been robbed of what should have been a sure goal by Sacramento keeper Bobby Shuttleworth the previous week, but had been without a shot on target for 4 games before that. I had some concern that Jahn, who crossed the 2000 minutes played mark on Tuesday, but had never played more than 1100 in season before might be wearing down a bit. I had suspected that Rick Schantz might give Ben Spencer a start, to get Jahn some rest with the short mid-week turn around. Instead, not only did Jahn start and score in the 2nd minute, he was still going strong enough to put another home in the 83rd minute. Solomon Asante's headed goal in the 81st minute was the first of his 19 not to come off one of his feet this season. Winger Junior Flemmings did start the game on the bench, but needed just 33 minutes of playing time to record his 11th goal of the season, and seal up the victory in the 84th minute. This trio has now scored an astonishing 43 combined goal this season, which is more than the total scored by 25 of the 35 other teams in the USL Championship this year.
For Colorado, they have just 3 players on their roster who have scored more than 2 goals this season. Their leading scorer is Burt, who has put the onion in the bag 6 times this season. He is listed as a midfielder, but seems to be starting frequently at right-back. However, in their most recent match against Fresno, he started a forward. Winger Shane Malcolm is 2nd on the club with 5 goals. Imalia Jome, a guy who is listed as forward/defender (apparently this is a coveted thing in Colorado Springs) but seems to usually play at left back. The lack of goal production from the forward position is stunning. Austin Dewing has gotten 6 starts up front since July 20, 2019, but has yet to score a goal. Tucker Bone has started up front for Colorado Springs 3 times so far in August, but T. Bone has been all sizzle and no steak with no goals and just 1 assist in over 400 minutes. The latest man to come through the revolving door is Mexican national Fernando Gonzalez who started up front with Burt against Sacramento. Expect the 21-year-old Gonzalez, who came to Colorado Springs from Club America in Mexico on August 13th to start again against Phoenix. With a pedigree that includes experience in Liga MX, and the Mexican youth national team, it would seem that Gonzalez could be a game changing addition for the struggling Switchbacks.
While Phoenix's 25 goals allowed on the season are still just one more than Freno's league best total of 24 allowed (with Phoenix having played an additional game), there has been some decline in Phoenix's defensive results over the past 5 matches. Over that span they have allowed 8 goals, and failed to record a clean sheet. By comparison, in the previous 5 matches, they allowed just 3 goals with 3 clean sheets. Of note is that many of these goals have come because of fluke bounces, or mental lapses. While fluke bounces will always be part of the game called football, but the mental mistakes are of concern because of the frequency with which they have happened of late. Thus far they have been talented enough to overcome those mistakes, but they can't count on being able to do that come playoff time when the competition gets stiffer, and goals get harder to come by. Things aren't going to get any easier for them either. Mustapha Dumbuya has been one of Phoenix's most consistent players on the back line all season, having logged nearly 1800 minutes in 21 starts. In fact, his play has been so good that it earned him a call up to play for the Sierra Leone national team. The honor comes for Dumbuya at a bad point in the season for Phoenix, luckily, it seems as if recently acquired Corey Whelan is ready to start making his way into the mix, and this could be his opportunity. They will also being getting Mala back after his one-game-suspension.
Colorado Springs has been at their best this season with Andre Rawls in goal. In 12 starts his numbers have been solid given circumstances with a 66% save percentage, and 1.42 goals allowed per 90 minutes. Recently, Rawls has been unavailable for them, as he was called up to the MLS Colorado Rapids for emergency duty while starting goalkeeper Tim Howard was sidelined with an injury. When is Rawls away, Colorado Springs has experienced a steep decline with Abraham Rodriguez in goal. In 11 starts, the just 16-year-old Rodriguez has a save percentage that is a tick below 60%, and 2.45 goals allowed per 90 minutes. He was impressive earlier this season at Phoenix in what was his professional debut. On that night, he turned away 11 of the 13 shots Phoenix put on target to preserve the 2-2 draw. However, with Howard having made his return to the Colorado Rapids line-up, I expect that we will see Rawls in goal on Saturday.
As mentioned above, this game counts in the standings for the inaugural Four Corners Cup. The competition also includes New Mexico United and Real Monarchs SLC. The Real Monarchs, after dropping their first 2 games in the Cup, have bounced back with 3 consecutive wins to top the table with 9 points. The 5 games played however, is the most played of any team, and leaves them only one more opportunity to get points. Phoenix sits 3rd in this competition with 5 points. Colorado Springs is last with just 1 point through 4 games played, and are the only team mathematically eliminated. It appears that the September 28, 2019 match between Phoenix and New Mexico (7 points in 4 games played) in Albuquerque, and the October 12, 2019 match between Phoenix and Real Monarchs will be the pivotal moment in determining who lifts this piece of hardware.
Colorado Springs Switchbacks vs Phoenix Rising Prediction
Anytime you are on a winning streak as long as 16 games in-a-row, it has to come to an end sometime. Having already broken the all-time U.S. record for longest professional soccer winning streak, the odds are getting longer against this streak continuing. Especially in a game like football where one unlucky bounce can swing a result in the cruelest manor. Throwing records out the window, Saturday night seems as good of a chance as any for it to happen. After all, Colorado is as tough a place to play at as there is, and Phoenix is playing their 3rd match in eight days. That being said, they have a lot of extra incentive to win this one, namely avenging their home draw from earlier this season, and stacking up points toward the Four Corners Cup. Phoenix has walked a tight-rope recently, and trailed late in some games that most teams would not have come back to win. All good things must come to an end, but I don't think they do this Saturday, and I say the streak pushes on to 17.
Prediction: Phoenix Rising - 3 Colorado Springs Switchbacks - 1