Phoenix Rising FC travel to Cashman Field in Las Vegas, NV to play Las Vegas Lights on Saturday, September 5, 2020. It is the second of, what will be three matches between these clubs over a 21 days stretch in USL Championship Group B, and the second of two at Las Vegas. They will meet for the third and final time next Friday, September 11, 2020. In the previous meeting on August 22nd, the two clubs played to a 3-3 draw in what was one of the most bizarre endings to a match that you will ever see. To give an idea, there were 3 goals scored after the 90th minute, and over 9 minutes of stoppage time in a match where only 4 were announced. In spite of that result, and a subsequent loss to Reno 1868 last Saturday, Phoenix remains atop the Group B table with 20 points. However, with 18 points, and a game in hand, Orange County SC is breathing down their necks. Las Vegas is at the bottom of the Group B table with 9 points, and will be on just 2 days rest following a 1-1 draw against San Diego Loyal on Wednesday.
One of the most interesting stats I have come across for Las Vegas is that after scoring just 2 goals over the course of their first 4 matches, they then went on a run of scoring 3 goals in each of their next 4 matches before falling back to the 1 goal output on Wednesday. The main catalyst for their recent surge in offense has been super-sub Blake Frischknecht, who has an incredible 3 goals and 3 assists in just 128 minutes, in 6 appearances for Las Vegas, all as a substitute.
This guy's been a thorn in my side forever! He played in the PDL at BYU when I was coaching at Tucson.
Rick Schantz on Blake Frischknecht
In fact Frischknecht leads the club in both goals and assists in spite of not starting a game all year, and of course 2 of those assists came in Vegas's late rally against Phoenix this previous fortnight. As is explained in the accompanying video, it appears the Frischknecht has been not only a thorn in the side of bloggers who have to spell out his name three times in one paragraph, but also is a bit of a long time nemesis of Rick Schantz, far predating his time with PRFC. Looking at his career, it is one of the craziest sets of stats you have ever seen. The now 25-years-old Las Vegas native only just made his professional debut last season in the NPSL with Orange County FC, where he scored 3 goals in 3 appearances. He also scored 4 goals in 5 appearances with Ogden City of USL League 2. In college he played 2 years at Utah Valley, scoring 20 goals in 54 games. In other words, this guy seems to be an absolute goal scoring machine everywhere he goes, albeit in small sample sizes, but coming with such high praise from Schantz, who has clearly seen more of him than most people, I think he could turn into a dangerous player at this tier for years to come. The biggest question remaining seems to be whether or not he is capable of being a 90 minute player.
PRFC Manager Rick Schantz On Blake Frischknecht
Las Vegas Lights vs Phoenix Rising Vital Information
This is a televised match, and and can be viewed on ESPN Plus in the United States and locally in Arizona on CW61. The match is at 7:30 PM Arizona time on Saturday, September 4, 2020.
This will be the 7th meeting all time between Phoenix Rising and Las Vegas. In the previous 6 meetings, Phoenix has won 4 times, Las Vegas has won 1 time, and there has been 1 draw. It was Phoenix winning the most recent meeting prior to two week's ago on September 11, 2019 by a score of 0-1 at Las Vegas. Ironically, as noted above the two clubs will meet again, one year to the day later, next Friday at Casino Arizona Field. (Note: Although this applies to NEXT WEEK'S GAME it is worth nothing that it was announced that a limited number of Season Ticket Members will be allowed to attend the upcoming match, which will be the first time fans have been in attendance, in Phoenix, since the March 7, 2020 season opening match.)
It was widely reported that PRFC travelled to Las Vegas on the day of the game two weeks ago, this time around they are spending the night in Vegas. It will be their fourth consecutive match on the road.
PRFC Manager Rick Schantz On Fan Expectations
Five Points That Shouldn’t be Overlooked
I have been including a few videos from coach Schantz's weekly Tuesday media calls that are relevant to the article each week. This week, I am going to include a few more than usual, because several are relevant to this week's article, and also, because as fans and writers it is easy to make arm chair decisions, but it is important that we do so with a high level of respect for the work that the players and staff put in on a daily basis. It is part of your job as fans, and mine as a journalist to question a coach's decision that we might not agree with, but is also important to remember that we are not in training day-in, and day out, nor are we studying film on opponents and nearly the level that these professionals are. These weekly 30 minute media calls, which are usually posted almost in their entirety on Owain Evans's fantastic Twitter feed, are a tiny window that we have each week into that world, and allows us to be better informed in our opinions. As mentioned in the video above, Phoenix Rising Twitter can be a rough place after dropped points. I fired off a number of Tweets after last week's loss which I will go into more detail about below. However, I want to make it clear that critical comments do not in any way mean that coach Schantz has anything less than my unwavering support, and that I have zero doubts that he is "the man for the job" at PRFC.
We can debate until we are blue in the face whether or not starting Dadashov against Reno would have lead to a different outcome. That ship has sailed though, so the next morning I was up early, and diving deep into stats and advanced metrics to try to get a better handle on the whole story. One of the stats that I find to be extremely important, especially when assessing defenders, is plus/minus. This is a stat that is more popular in hockey, and recently basketball, but is basically just the number of goals your teams has scored while you were on the pitch, minus the number of goals conceded while you were on the pitch.
In the immediate aftermath of the match, I fired off this tweet. In my article last week I surmised that Reno would start all three of their "big guns" up front, Corey Hertzog, Christiano Francois, and Foster Langsdorf, which they did. My theory was that our three "big guns", Solomon Asante, Junior Flemmings, and Rufat Dadashov were just a little bit bigger, and that Phoenix could prevail based on that. Leaving Dadashov on the bench against an explosive team like Reno just seems like showing up to a duel with only five bullets in your six shooter. When Dadashov did come on in 64th minute, he ended up scoring Phoenix's only goal of the night 13 minutes later.
When looking at plus/minus, for most players and teams, just being on the plus side of things is the goal here. On Phoenix Rising, almost every regular player is at +1.00 or better, meaning that for every 90 minutes that player is on the field that Phoenix is at least 1 goal better than their opponents. What I look for from here is which players deviate the most from the average, which for Phoenix so far this year is +1.70. (This means that as a team Phoenix is outscoring their opponents by 1.7 goals per game on average this year.) There are 11 players who have played at least 500 minutes for Phoenix so far this year, of those, the player with the lowest plus/minus ratio is Dadashov at +1.34, which might surprise some people. Taking a further look, it appears that it's on defense that we take a hit with him, as he has been on the pitch for 11 of 12 goals conceded this year, in spite of only playing 73.2% of the minutes. He also has the worst net plus minus of the regulars at -1.25, so its fair to see why Schantz may not have thought he was the best bet against a potent offensive team like Reno. Unfortunately, without a true second striker, not starting Dadashov ultimately means shuffling other positions, which has added up to a subtraction for Phoenix thus far when they have tried it. I broke this down in my 10 part Tweet from Sunday.
What we essentially have here is a manager that is dealing with a roster that is absolutely stacked at some positions, and barely one deep at others. Therefore, he is stuck in between trying to pick his most talented 11, and the 11 guys who are best at their position. The comments I made accompanying these Tweets once again are by no means a knock on Santi Moar, or Joey Callisti, it simply speaks to the amount of talent we have at the wing position. Both are outstanding players who would be every game starters on just about any other team, but Phoenix Rising have Asante and Flemmings who are not only the two best wingers, but possibly the two best players in the entire league. Bringing in Moar has proven a subtraction because it ultimately moves Flemmings to a less effective position. This is backed up by Moar's team low +.30 plus/minus rating.
The situation is even more difficult for Calistri, who very well may be one of Phoenix's 10 best outfield players, but is fourth on the depth chart at his natural position of wing. With Schantz wanting to play a system where 11 guys attack, and 11 guys defend, it makes perfect sense to want try a guy with Calistri's tools at that position. There have been mixed results, mostly good with Calistri who has a +1.83 rating, however, Owusu Ansah-Kontoh's team best +2.09 suggests that perhaps Phoenix is better off with a more traditional, defensive oriented player at that position.
PRFC Manager Rick Schantz On Tactics And Positioning
On a lighter note, one of the great Phoenix Rising mysteries, one that we have covered recently both in this space, and on our podcast, the great mystery of 5-4-1. If you have missed our previous discussion it has been noted that on the line-up cards that PRFC is always listed in a 5-4-1 formation, when they in fact always play a 4-3-3 formation. We thought there might be some kind of bigger story behind this, and this week Evans took a moment to ask Schantz about it. As it turns out, it's not much of a mystery at all, and that card is not even filled out by Schantz, but instead team administrator Nate Pearlman. Evidently the whole process is a bit of a joke among coaches, and as far as he knows nobody takes the time to write out the correct formation on that sheet.
PRFC Manager Rick Schantz On 5-4-1 Team Sheet
Special Edition With Jake Anderson On Cashman "Theatrics"
With 15 goals scored and 15 goals against, it appears that Las Vegas is a bit better than their 2-3-4 record would show. They are a team that spreads the scoring around some, as they have nobody with more than 3 goals, but 6 players with at least 2. Among those is Ramon del Campo, who scored the equalizer against Phoenix two weeks ago. This is a team that overall has quite a bit of veteran leadership. Out of the outfield players on their roster who have played over 500 minutes this season, only Rashawn Dally and Grant Robinson are under 25. One question mark this week will be at the goalkeeper position. Edward Delgado started the last match against Phoenix, and had been extremely good before allowing 4 goals on just 5 shots against LA Galaxy II on August 30th. Even after that performance, his save percentage still sits at 69.7% to give you an idea of how good he had been. He was replaced by Thomas Olsen on Wednesday, who stopped 1 out of the 2 shots he faced. Given the short rest for Olsen, and the fact that Delgado has started 8 out of the 10 matches for Las Vegas this year, I am guessing that we will see him back in net on Saturday. So far this season, Vegas keepers have faced 38 shots on target through 9 games, or 4.22 per game, and a good but not great number. All-in-all Las Vegas appears to be a team that is pretty much bang average on both offense and defense, and would likely be a playoff threat in any other group. It is impressive what manager Frank Yallop has been able to due with the club in such a short time.
This week I have put our odds from draftkings.com, side by side with the odds from 2 weeks ago. One of the things I have mentioned several times is that sometimes the line will tell you a lot, and other times it will tell you not quite so much. Generally speaking, the best times to bet, or bet big are when the line is really telling you something. Two weeks ago I had mentioned that the line was really not telling you a whole lot, so even though Phoenix still seemed a safe bet, not to bet big on it. This time around, things are completely different. This line isn't just telling you to bet the farm on Phoenix, this line is telling you to bet 10 farms on Phoenix! Why, you ask? In this unique scenario we have two teams playing in the same venue that they played in two weeks ago. In the past game Phoenix came in as the heavy favorite, and the game ended in a draw. The assumption would be that this time around Phoenix should be favored by less, right? Well, not only are they not favored by less, they are favored by significantly more. This time around a $10 bet on Vegas to win pays $18 more than it would have last time, and the draw pays $9 more than it would have last time. Last time around a bet of $10 on Phoenix to win would have paid you $15 back, this time you will return only $13.20. As proved by the last match, it wouldn't be called gambling if anything were 100%, but this is as lead pipe of a lock as you can get. I consider this bet an even bigger lock than the one against Los Dos on August 19th.
Las Vegas Lights vs Phoenix Rising Prediction
I feel like these past 2 weeks should have been quite enough to awaken the sleeping bear inside of Phoenix Rising, and I would not look forward to being on the Vegas back line on Saturday. It's hard enough stopping guys like Asante and Flemmings under normal circumstances, but when a bit of revenge is at hand, the task becomes even more difficult. As Darnell King said on his recent interview with us, the team owes Vegas some payback for the way they celebrated the draw at the end of the last match. It appears that Las Vegas has figured out how to score goals, and Phoenix has not shown much ability to keep a clean sheet yet this year, so it is going to take a solid offensive output, but I think they end up getting it. I expect that Phoenix will get on the board early (within the first 15 minutes of the match) and not look back from there. A late tally by Frischknecht could make it look closer at the end than it really was, but this time Phoenix leaves Sin City with all 3 points.