Phoenix Rising FC will travel to Championship Soccer Stadium to play Orange County SC this Saturday, July 25, 2020. It is the second of two consecutive USL Championship match-ups between PRFC and OCSC in a 10-day-period, both at Irvine, California. In the first match, on last Thursday, July 16, the clubs fought to a 1-1 draw. It was a physical match that saw OC knock Phoenix out of their normal offensive rhythm. A Junior Flemmings goal early in the 2nd half put Phoenix ahead initially, but OC struck back in the 74th minute to level things, when Kevin Coleman converted just 7 minutes after subbing on. Both teams struggled to find much offense in that match with Phoenix managing just 1 other shot on target, and Orange County testing Phoenix keeper Zac Lubin only 2 additional times. There is certainly no love lost between these two sides, and it is always a physical match-up when they get together, so I expect to see another hard fought, and low scoring game again this time around. Add in the fact that these guys all just saw each other 10 days ago, plus the added intensity of the short, 16 game schedule, and I would frankly be surprised if both clubs walk off the pitch with all 11 men still playing tonight.
Speaking of leaving the pitch short men, PRFC did have defender Owusu-Ansah Kontoh sent off in the last match. It was by no means a violent play, but was a clear denial of a goal scoring opportunity which is an automatic send off. Per league policy Kontoh will not be available for Saturday's match, thus leaving Phoenix shorthanded at a position where they are already lacking depth. For Orange County, we still haven't heard if Thomas Enevoldsen has made it back into the country yet, and it's looking like he might miss a second consecutive match. That being said, OCSC didn't seem to lack for attacking talent last Thursday. When they brought in Coleman and the electrifying Darwin Jones off the bench midway through the 2nd half, it really changed the game for OC. Jones scored 12 goals and added 5 assists last season and looked very good when he came on last week. I expect that he should get a start today, especially since even if Enevoldsen is back, I don't see him being ready to play a full 90 yet.
Orange County SC vs Phoenix Rising Vital Information
This is a televised match, and an be viewed on ESPN Plus in the United States and locally in Arizona on CW61. The match is at 7 PM Arizona time on Saturday, July 25, 2020.
This will be the 22nd meeting all time between Phoenix Rising and Orange County SC. In the previous 21 meetings, Phoenix has won 9 times, Orange County has won 6 times, and there has been 6 draws. It was a Phoenix victory in the most recent match prior to last wee, 3-0 at Phoenix back on June 15, 2019. The clubs split their two match-ups last season, with Orange County's 2-1 winning over Phoenix on May 4, 2019 at Irvine. The 21 meetings between the two clubs are the most of between Phoenix Rising and any opponent.
Five Points That Shouldn’t be Overlooked
Looking at the standings in USL Championship Group B, this is a pivotal match, especially for Orange County. Like I mentioned last week, in this group you have as many as 4 playoff worthy squads fighting for just 2 positions. Right now Phoenix sits at 7 points with 3 matches played, San Diego Loyal are on 7 points with 4 matches played, and LA Galaxy II are on 6 points with 3 matches played. OC has 2 points through their first 2 matches, and although they will have at least a game in hand on everyone else, a loss tonight would leave them 4 points behind the 3rd place squad, which is a deeper hole than meets the eye with such a short schedule. Nobody expects much from Las Vegas Lights but it is worth noting that they have only played 1 game so far this season, and will have a number of games in hand on everyone, which is another potential wrench in the gears for OC to deal with if they drop more points tonight. For Phoenix, a win would move them up to 10 points, and give them a 3 point edge plus a game in hand against San Diego. Most importantly, it would move them 4 points ahead of 3rd place Los Dos.
Episode 151: Food Trucks, Head Ins & Dives
I am not going to spend too much time on the pitch condition, but if you want to hear more in depth on that then check out our preview podcast above. That being said, it can't go without mentioning that in the first match the condition of the pitch became more of a story than the game. This included the announcers on the broadcast mentioning that a lumpy pitch may have had to do with some of the leg injuries that had cropped up throughout the match, and culminated with Solomon Asante's post game tweet blasting the condition of the field. PRFC coach Rick Schantz responded to Asante's comments with an assertion that it was not an excuse, while still taking the time to point out the the field had needed to be painted green for TV purposes before the match. I am not going to sit here an speculate over whether the pitch effected the outcome of the match or not, but I will say with certainty, that the fact that after the match we were talking about the condition of the pitch, and not the football that was being played on it is a bad thing for the USL.
One position I have been keeping an eye on for OCSC is the goalkeeper position. Last season it was a bit of a revolving door as they played a total of four different keepers. Of those, they returned both Danish veteran Frederik Due and 18-year-old American Aaron Cervantes. Looking at last years stats, Due posted nearly a 70% save percentage and a sparkling 7-0-2 record in 9 starts, while Cervantes seemed to struggle, posting a save percentage barely of 60%, and below .500 record of 3-5-3. However, it appears that in spite of last year's stats that OC manager Braeden Cloutier must see Cervantes as the future, because he has started both matches so far this season. He has played well, allowing just 1 goal through those two matches, but he has not really been tested either, as he has only seen a total of 5 shots on target in those matches. Due was clearly available last Thursday, so you have to think that Cervantes has the job for now and will be in net again on Saturday. Phoenix plays a game that is built on working the ball up from the back, and speedy wingers delivering the ball into the 18 yard box for the striker, but last week they only managed to get 3 shots on target that way. If the game starts off the same way it did last week, I would like to see Phoenix's midfielders perhaps try some shots from distance just to test the young Cervantes.
It has been brought to my attention that since I essentially am making 2 predictions in every article that I need a bit of clarification. The prediction I make at the end of every article is "for entertainment purposes only" and is generally riddled with Phoenix Rising homerism. If you are actually betting money based on what I put in this column, then this is the section you want to look at. What I do here is actually analyze who I think the oddsmakers think is going to win, or what the result is going to be based strictly on what the odds are. Considering that the odds makers have built many hotels and casinos based on getting these numbers right, my strategy is that I essentially want to bet on what I think the house is betting on. What does that mean? Well last week I mentioned that you could get favorable odds on both Phoenix and Orange County to win. What I read that to mean is that the casino was looking to encourage action on both sides of the line because they thought the game was going to end in a draw, and that is exactly what happened. It's not 100%, because if it was, then it wouldn't be called gambling, but it is the strategy that gives you the highest percentage chance of winning. In other words, to beat the house, you need to be the house. This week our odds come from OregonLottery.org and needless to say it doesn't look like the folks are Oregon Lottery think PRFC is going to win tonight. As I mentioned last week, Phoenix was a -.109. which at the time seemed favorable because anytime you can get close to even money on a team of Phoenix's caliber, it's a rarity. Some lines last year saw folks having to bet $10 just to win $2 on a PRFC win. This week, you can get a whopping +140 on Phoenix, or $14 for every $10 you bet. OC has gone down from a +243 last week to a +170 this week. To me this still looks like a line where they are begging people to pile money on both sides because they are worried about having to cover the draw which sits at +250 right now.
This fifth section is one where I get a little bit editorial from time to time, and I want to take a moment to do so this week. In seeing some of the comments on social media over the past week, you would think the Phoenix Rising were in last place. This is a team that is unbeaten, coming off of a hard fought draw against a rival on the road, and it seems like all everyone wants to talk about is what is wrong with the team. Honestly, we have all become a bit spoiled by the success of this club, and at the end of the day the USL Championship is a tough league that is filled with good players, and not every game is going to be a 5-1 victory. Phoenix Rising are unbeaten and in 1st place with a plus 9 goal difference though 3 games and we are talking about things like do we need to change formations or add more players on the back line. I am not singling anyone out, because we are all guilty of this, including myself. At this time though, I think its time for all of us to take a step back and look at everything that coach Schantz and these guys have accomplished, especially with the added difficulties caused by COVID19, and Rise Together But Separately and give all the players, coaches, and hard working staff at Phoenix Rising Football Club a round of applause.
Orange County SC Vs Phoenix Rising Prediction
The oddsmakers may not believe Phoenix Rising are going to win this week, but they don't know about the heart and sole of this club. Captain Asante is a man with the heart of a champion, and each and every player on this squad have set out with him this season with only one mission in mind, and that mission is to lift the only trophy they have yet to lift. To me, a team that wins championships doesn't necessarily have to be able to win every game, but they have to be able to win every game that that have to win. I know that sounds a bit silly, but what I am getting at is a championship team is going to know that this is the kind of game where they can make a statement. This is the last road game that they play against OCSC this year, and realistically might be the most difficult match remaining on their schedule. It is the kind of game that going out and winning it can give the guys the confidence and momentum to know and believe that they are the best, because they can beat the best. I think the guys dig deep and show that they are not just a great offensive team, but a great defensive team that can grind out wins when necessary, and Zac Lubin keeps a clean sheet.
Prediction: Phoenix Rising - 1 Orange County - 0