Phoenix Rising FC travel to Cashman Field in Las Vegas, NV to play Las Vegas Lights FC on Tuesday, September 11, 2019. It is the second and final USL Championship regular season match-up of the year between these Western Conference rivals. The first few sentences of these articles are starting to sound the same each week, but what else can you say when Phoenix comes into the match on a 18-game-winning-streak. They have not lost or drawn since May 4, 2019, and are coming off a 1-0 victory over San Antonio FC last Saturday. They continue to hold a 15 point advantage over 2nd place Fresno FC in the Western Conference table (although with one additional game played), and if cards fall right can clinch the Western Conference title outright by this weekend. Their 72 goals scored are now just 3 shy of the all-time USL record of 75 by Reno 1868 FC in 2017. It is also more than twice as many goals as Las Vegas's 35. By winning 18 straight, they now have a winning streak that extends through more than 50% of their 34 game schedule.
For Las Vegas Lights, they are currently struggling in 14th place, with chance of making the postseason dimming each week. They have just 1 win in the past 7 matches, and are coming off of a 3-0 loss at home against El Paso Locomotive FC. Particularly troubling is they they allowed 3 goals to an El Paso club who had scored just 28 goals though 25 games prior to that. To make matters worse for Las Vegas, Junior Sandoval was sent off late in the game against El Paso, meaning that the midfielder who has been a regular starter since coming over from Memphis 901 FC, will be suspended for the match against Phoenix. With currently 32 points, Las Vegas is just 5 back of 10th place OKC Energy FC for the final playoff position, but also have to jump over 3 teams to get there. With just 7 games left to play, pulling off an upset against Phoenix is crucial the Las Vegas's playoff push. It should be noted that Vegas is a different team at home (7-4-2) than they are on the road (1-4-9), so there is certainly more to this match than meets the eye. It is also worth mentioning that in spite of being roughly 300 miles apart, this is each club's closest geographic rival.
Phoenix will also be a bit shorthanded again, as winger Junior Flemmings and defender Mustapha Dumbuya are still making their way back from international duty. Both teams come in on only two days rest, so we can expect to see some line-up changes compared to what each side rolled out with on Saturday. Most interestingly for Phoenix, is that Jason Johnson came off the bench on Saturday, which was his first appearance back after missing four months with a lower body injury. It would not be a surprise to see Johnson get his first start since April, especially with Flemmings still yet to return. Other question is is whether or not USL Coach of the Month, Phoenix manager Rick Schantz will look to get Adam Jahn, who is now at nearly double his previous career high in minutes played a night off. I also expect that Doueugui Mala will figure into the starting backline tonight. On the Las Vegas side of things, I expect that key recent signing, Cristian Martinez will be back in the starting lineup tonight after not playing on Saturday.
Las Vegas Lights vs Phoenix Rising Vital Information
Referee assignments have the referee as David Barrie, with Matthew Seem and Eric Wood as the assistants, and Ricardo Fierro as the 4th official. On the discipline report, Phoenix does not have anyone suspended, or under caution, for Las Vegas, in addition to the Sandoval suspension, Christian Torres is on the caution list, and his next booking will result in a one-game-suspension.
This will be the 5th meeting all time between Phoenix Rising and Las Vegas. In the previous 4 meetings, Phoenix has won 3 times, Las Vegas has won 1 time, and there has been 0 draws. It was a drubbing of Las Vegas in Phoenix back on May 18, 2019 when they last met, with the home side coming away victorious by a score of 4-0. Interestingly enough, in 3 of the previous 4 meetings between these clubs, Phoenix has come away with a clean sheet. In the other match, Las Vegas scored 5 times, in beating Phoenix 5-2 at Las Vegas on October, 10, 2018.
Five Points That Shouldn’t be Overlooked
If there was anyone left who thought anyone other than Solomon Asante should be USL Championship MVP this season, then he had to have silenced those critics with his world class free-kick goal against San Antonio. The fact that this came in the 87th minute, and was the only goal of a game that extended a winning streak to 18 games, is the definition of clutch when you look it up in the dictionary. The fact that it was his league leading 21st of the season, to go along with 14 assists is just the icing on the cake. Asante needs 4 goals to tie, and 5 to break the league record. Perhaps more impressive is that with any combination of 5 goals and/or assists over the last 7 matches, he can push his goal involvement to an absurd 40. He has already ensured that his goal involvement per game will be greater than 1 this season, as at this point he can play in a maximum of 32 matches.
Mr. Everything for Las Vegas this season has been Irvin Parra, as he has scored 10 goals and added 5 assists for a club that doesn't have anyone else who has scored more than 5 times this year. However, he has struggled of late, and has 0 goals and just 1 assist over his past 6 matches. Their other biggest scoring threat is Preston Tabortetaka with 5 goals this season, which isn't a bad number in 16 starts. However, he has found the back of the net just once since June 22. It should be noted however that goal came in their second to last match, and his shots and shots on target numbers have been up over the past few weeks, which suggests the 20-year-old Cameroonian is rounding back into his early summer form. Otherwise, their next top scorer is ironman center-back Javan Torre with 4 goals, which obviously speaks to an extreme lack of scoring depth up front. The most promising offensive stat for Las Vegas is that they have had 14 different players score for them this season, which is the same number of players that have scored for Phoenix. The difference of course is that Las Vegas's top 2 scorers Parra and Tabortetaka have combined to score 15 goals, which is just one more than Jahn, Phoenix's second leading scorer's 14. In fact, Asante and Jahn's total of 35 combined goals is the same number that Las Vegas has as a team this season.
While Las Vegas's goal scoring total is among the lowest in the league, their defense has been a bit better. Even after allowing 3 goals on Saturday, their total of 43 allowed has them sitting firmly mid-pack in that category. That being said, that total is still 18 more than Phoenix's league best total of 25 conceded. Phoenix's total is 3 less than Fresno's 28 allowed, and this is in spite of having played one more game. Phoenix has kept a clean sheet in each of their past 2 contests, and those were goalkeeper Zac Lubin's league leading 12th and 13th of the season. After Saturday's contest his save percentage stands at an even 80%, and it is safe to say that Asante's free kick would not have been nearly enough to win against San Antonio without the heroics of Lubin. He has now recorded a clean sheet in 13 out of 24 starts this season (54.2%), and with another tonight can drop his goals allowed to below 0.70 per 90 minutes. If Asante wasn't having the season he is having, Lubin is a guy who could easily be in the MVP discussion. When a team is off setting scoring records every week, it is easy to forget about a guy who has only conceded 17 times in 24 starts, but doesn't make it any less important.
The goalkeeping position is one of great strength for Las Vegas, as Thomas Olsen is among a group of players currently tied for 4th in the league with 9 clean sheets. His 64% save percentage and 1.60 goals allowed per 90 minutes are solid, but not sparkling statistics. However, having the solidity of a guy who has started 25 games for them this season is a luxury that many clubs at this division Looking a little bit deeper into the stats, Olsen has made 71 saves while allowing 40 goals in his 25 starts, meaning that he has faced 111 shots or 4.44 shots per game. By comparison Lubin has save 68 and conceded 17 in his 24 starts, which works out 85 or 3.54 shots per game. All in all, this points to Las Vegas being pretty solid overall as a defensive and goalkeeping unit, but a couple of notches behind Phoenix. At this point it seems that they are a club that is a legitimate striker away from being a playoff contender.
When a game is being played in Las Vegas, the questions always will inevitably be,"what's the line?". That of course being the betting line, and in this case the line have Phoenix very heavily favored. How much so? Well, right now a bet on Las Vegas to win is paying out at +480, which means you win $4.80 for every $1 you bet. A line of almost 5 to 1 in a head-to-head match up sport is extremely rare, especially in the case of the home team being that big of an underdog. By comparison, a bet on Phoenix to win pays out at -268, which is a paltry 36 cents for every dollar that you are betting. This number is extraordinarily low for soccer, a sport that also offers a common outcome of draw (which in this game itself is priced at +340). Even if you have no interest in gambling, it's important to remember that the folks who make the lines do it for a living, and the lines are set in a way to encourage betting in a way that is profitable to the casino. Reading this line, and especially incorporating in the fact that Vegas being the home team will always see an unnatural amount of action on their side, what I am seeing here is the casino absolutely begging you to do anything but bet on Phoenix. Anytime the casino is begging you not to bet on something, that is exactly what I am betting on, even if in this case I am having to bet $100 make a $36 gain.
Las Vegas Lights vs Phoenix Rising Prediction
Everyone is looking for reasons that the streak could end tonight, (rivalry game, midweek, short rest, stayed out too late drinking and gambling) but I just don't see it. The wise guys in Vegas tend to agree with me as well. Realistically I don't plan on picking against Phoenix unless I have an extremely solid reason along the lines of fill in the blank opponent gets a bringing in a guy who's name starts with L and and with ionel Messi. Looking at it from an analysts perspective, Las Vegas's offense is less than half as productive as Phoenix's, and their defense concedes about 40% more goals. I could see the reasoning for "maybe this game is when they draw", but I don't think Vegas is paying our $340 for every $100 bet if they think that has much chance of happening. Vegas fans will be needing to visit the $2 tequila stands early and often tonight, because they are not going to want to remember this one in the morning.
Prediction: Phoenix Rising - 4 Las Vegas Lights - 1