Phoenix Rising FC travel to Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, California to play LA Galaxy II on Saturday, August 3, 2019. It is the first USL Championship regular season match-up of the year between the two Western Conference clubs. Phoenix comes into the match not only leading the Western Conference standings, but also looking to add to their league record 11 game winning streak. Not much more is needed to be said about the form of a team that has won every time that they stepped onto the pitch since May 4, 2019. Their +36 goal difference is best in the league, and their 44 points are tied for the most with Eastern Conference side New York Red Bulls II (Phoenix has 2 games in hand on them). Galaxy II had been struggling for most of the season, but have moved up to 9th in the table with wins over Tulsa Roughnecks FC and Portland Timbers 2 last week. They have a mediocre 7-8-7 record on the season, and their -8 differential says that they should be lower in the standings than they are.
Looking at Galaxy 2's results on the season, it appears that they tend to play well against the bottom table teams. For example they are 3-1-0 in 4 matches against Tulsa and Tacoma Defiance. On the other hand, it seems that they struggle against top table teams, and are 0-0-3 in matches against 2nd and 3rd place sides Reno 1868 FC and Fresno FC. This seems to not trend well for them against Phoenix, and as Matt Robards pointed out on our most recent podcast, Galaxy 2 are not a club that is just going to park the bus and try to get a draw like Tulsa did last week. Considering that L.A. have scored 18 fewer, and allowed 26 more goals than Phoenix, it seems unlikely that things will go their way in a shootout.
LA Galaxy II vs Phoenix Rising Vital Information
Referee assignments have referee Calin Radosav at center pitch, with Eduardo Jeff and Art Arustamyan as the assistants, and William Randy Hoffman will be the 4th official.
This will be the 12th meeting all time between the Tulsa Roughnecks and Phoenix Rising. In the previous 11 meetings, Phoenix has won 8 times, Galaxy 2 have won 3, and there has been 0 draws. It was a Phoenix victory in the most recent of those, 4-3, at Phoenix, back on May 4, 2018. Phoenix Rising have won the last 5 matches of in the series, and have not lost to Galaxy 2 since August 31, 2016. In fact, all 3 of L.A.'s wins in the series came in 2016, when they swept 3 matches against Phoenix. Phoenix has swept the season series with L.A. in 2015, 2017, and 2018.
Five Points That Shouldn’t be Overlooked
While much has been made of Phoenix's explosive offense and superstar scorers, they have also proven the ability to win close games and get scoring contributions from unlikely sources. Their last 2 road games have been 1-0 victories, last week against Tulsa, and two weeks prior at Rio Grande Valley FC Toros. Last week's goal came from Kevon Lambert, who has been away from the team for national duty most of the past 2 months, and came into the Tulsa game as a sub. In their closest home match during the streak, Amadou Dia had a brace, including the late winner again Timbers 2, they are the only 2 goals the defender has scored this season to date.
Speaking of unlikely scoring contributors, Galaxy 2 had a big one last Sunday against Portland in midfielder Jose Hernandez. His game winner in the 5th minute of stoppage time was his 1st goal of the season. L.A. is going to continue to try find scoring contributors, because they don't have anyone on the roster with more than 5 goals since sending Frank Lopez to San Antonio. Ethan Zubak and Ausgustine Williams (4 goals apiece) had each gotten turns in the number 9 role since Lopez's departure. Zubak is not always available though due to MLS call-ups, having made 11 appearances for Galaxy 2, and 3 in the MLS this year. My assumption is that Zubak will start up front when he is available, and Williams will when he is not.
Managing an "MLS Reserve Team" in the USL Championship must be a headache the size of a pack of mules stomping around in your skull. You have to hand it to interim Junior Gonzalez for having the club as high as 9th. If you think having your leading scorer loaned out to a team you are directly competing for a playoff spot with, and never knowing who is or isn't going to be available is bad enough, imagine what this does to your tactics? A look back through their past few matches brought a mind blowing fact to light. They never play the same formation from game to game. Sunday, against Portland, they played a 4-3-2-1 with Zubak up front. Against Tulsa they played a 4-3-3 with Williams as the center forward. The game before that, a 4-2-3-1 with Williams alone up front.
We talk about him week after week, but with the numbers he is putting up, how can you not talk about Phoenix goalkeeper Zac Lubin he extended his league lead last week with 11 clean sheets, and has now conceded just 9 goals in 17 appearances. By comparison, for Galaxy 2, Justom vom Steeg and Eric Lopez have combined to make 18 starts this season, and conceded a combined 28 goals. That is more than 3 times as many goals conceded as Lubin. Sure, Lubin has a better defense in front of him, but if you look at the shots faced numbers it looks like this. L.A.'s pair have faced 80 compared with 57 for Lubin, meaning they face 140% of the shots that Lubin faces. This means that they are allowing 311% of the goals that Lubing is, while facing 140% of the shots that he is comparatively. Or, in others, Lubin could allow a goal on the next 18 shots he faces and still have a better save percentage than the pair.
As noted previously, the top 3 scorers for Phoenix, Solomon Asante, Adam Jahn, and Junior Flemmings have combined to score 33 goals this season. However, as mentioned above, that is not the whole story. With Lambert's second of the year, they now have 9 players on the roster that have scored at least twice this season. This offense could become truly scary next month if Jason Johnson returns to the lineup. He scored 3 goals in just 8 games before tearing cartilage in his knee in early May. It was reported at the time that he would miss 4-6 months, leaving his season in question. However, 3-week-ago it was reported that he had been running on a gravity treadmill and that coach Rick Schantz expects and early September return. That would allow plenty of time for him to round into form before the playoffs.
LA Galaxy II vs Phoenix Rising Prediction
For the last couple of road games I have predicted blowout wins, and they have both ended up 1-0. In spite of what I said up top about the match-up style, I am going to toe the line a bit on this one. Road games are difficult, and as tough as it is on L.A., the inverse is that not knowing what players or formation you are going to have to play against is tough to practice for. On top of everything else, when you re on a run like Phoenix is on, you are going to get the opponents best effort every night. Everyone is going to be gunning for you as long as a record winning streak goes on, them wanting to be the ones in the news for ending the streak. I don't think it will be a streak ending night tonight, but it will be a closer game than expected. It could even be a game that goes into halftime all nil. I will say Asante capitalizes on a late penalty that is drawn by Jahn and Phoenix walks away a winner for the 12th time in-a-row.
Prediction: Phoenix Rising - 1 LA Galaxy II - 0