Austin Bold FC travel to Casino Arizona Field in Tempe, Arizona to play Phoenix Rising FC Friday, July 19, 2019. It is the second and final USL Championship regular season match-up of the year between these clubs. Phoenix, last year's Western Conference Champions, are at the top of the table as they expected they would be coming into this year. Expansion Austin sits a surprising 4th, and could be contenders to go deep into the playoffs in their very first season. With the top 3 teams in the west having separated themselves from the pack a bit, Austin cannot move up in the standings any higher than 4th with a win tonight. However, depending on how teams behind them fare, a loss could drop them back as far as 7th. In spite of their current 9 game winning run, Phoenix's 38 points are just 3 better than pesky Reno 1868 FC (35 Points), who are on a 4 game winning run of their own. However, Phoenix's Ajaxesque +29 goal differential should be enough to keep them on top of the table, regardless of this weekend's outcomes.
This is will be expansion Austin's first trip to the Valley of the Sun, and they get to do it on one of Phoenix's, now famous, Dollar Beer Nights. Not only will Phoenix be looking to tie the USL Championship record with their 10th consecutive win, they are looking to remain undefeated on Dollar Beer Night. The team is a perfect 11-0 on night's when they run this promotion, and looking to make it 12-0 against Austin. When Phoenix visited Austin back on April 17, the Bold held quite possible the most interesting promotion in league history when they invited fans to bring their farm animals to the game. It was a successful promotion for Austin on the field, as they managed a surprise upset over the defending conference champs that night. Given that Austin Bold's chairman Bobby Epstein has a background in auto racing as he is also chairman of Circuit of the Americas racetrack, one has to wonder if Epstein wasn't stealing a page out of the book of legendary NASCAR promoter "Humpy" Wheeler, who once brought a dead shark to the race track.
Phoenix Rising vs Austin Bold Vital Information
Referee assignments have referee Dejan Susak at center pitch, with Stephen McGonagle and Bennett Savage as the assistants, and Mario Coss will be the 4th official.
This will be the 2nd meeting all time between Phoenix Rising and Austin Bold. Austin won the only previous match-up back on April 17, 2019 by a 1-0 score.
Five Points That Shouldn’t be Overlooked
Phoenix's last match marked a low point in the season for Phoenix. After drawing each of their first 4 matches before finally getting a win in their fifth, the loss to Austin dropped them to 1-1-4 through 6 games. Many Phoenix fans were calling for head coach Rick Schantz's head on a platter, and questioning if the 6 lineup changes he made for the midweek match caused them to lose to the unheralded expansion team. Since then, it seems we have learned that Austin may just be a little bit better than originally advertised. For Phoenix, they have only lost 1 time since, and those same fans are now calling for Shantz to have a key to the city.
Austin is a team who's main objective is to prevent you from scoring, and as evidenced by the April match-up, they are pretty effective at it. They have scored a meager 26 goals on the season, but have only allowed 23 through 19 games. They have shown a bit of ability to score at home, but on the road they have really struggled. They have just 7 goals in 9 road games and have been shut out 5 times. This is not to say that Austin parks the bus when they are away from home, but Marcelo Serrano may have a future as a valet at Greyhound if the soccer coaching thing doesn't work out. Veteran Brazilian Striker Andre Lima does have 8 goals to lead the charge. Behind him, nobody on the club has scored more than 5.
Last week's match marked the return for Phoenix of Junior Flemmings and Kevon Lambert from CONCACAF Gold Cup duties. Both subbed on late in the win to start working their way back into the lineup. However, Lambert has been called back to the Jamaican national football team for Olympic qualifying and will again be unavailable for Phoenix tonight. On the other hand, expect Flemmings to make his return to the starting lineup tonight.
Phoenix has scored a USL Championship best 46 goals this season. As if that wasn't enough, their 17 goals allowed are the fewest in the Western Conference. Their leading scorer Solomon Asante is tied for the league lead with 12 goals, and he owns the league lead in assists with 10. Goalkeeper Zac Lubin leads the league in clean sheets with 9, and he didn't even begin the season as a starter. When you look at these numbers Phoenix is really a team without any glaring weaknesses. If all that isn't enough, they look to be even stronger going forward on the back line after bringing in Liverpool Academy product Corey Whelan. Whelan will take the place of reliable but infrequently used Collin Fernandez, who was traded to St. Louis FC. The move strengthens Phoenix's back line, clears up a bit of a logjam at midfield, and adds a player with an impressive pedigree to Phoenix's roster.
Just how good has Phoenix Rising FC been on Dollar Beer Nights? Not only are they a perfect 11-0 in those matches, but they have a +21 goal difference and 7 clean sheets in those 11 games. The success has even lead to similar promotions spreading around the league, including Reno's unsuccessful $1 beer night against Phoenix, and the Las Vegas Lights FC's $2 tequila nights. This has lead some on Twitter (ok it was me) to wonder if Phoenix would copycat on Austin's successful promotion from April. Phoenix Rising VP of Marketing Sam Doerr has confirmed however, that there will only be $1 Beers and no housing for farm animals at tonight's game.
Phoenix Rising vs Austin Bold Prediction
Austin is looking impressive, especially for a first year team, but they are coming up against the proverbial buzzsaw here. As if a desire to avenge their defeat earlier this season wasn't enough motivation for Phoenix, they also have a chance to tie a league record, and their Dollar Beer Night streak to protect. Austin is a solid team that plays good defense, is well coached, and gets timely goals. That is enough to squeak out a victory on a Wednesday night in Austin that "literally" more cows than people attended. However, Austin has never experienced a Copper State Friday night before. I don't expect this to be one of those games where Phoenix really runs up the score, Austin is just too disciplined defensively. I think it could be one of those games where most of the action happens in the second half. Keep an eye to see which way the teams are going tonight. If Phoenix is shooting at the south end goal (which sits in front of the supporters stands) in the second half, things could get rough for Austin goalkeeper Diego Restrepo. Phoenix supporters groups Red Fury and Los Bandidos are sure to be loud and well lubricated by then.
Prediction: Phoenix Rising - 3 Austin Bold - 1