El Paso Locomotive travel to Casino Arizona Field in Tempe, Arizona to play Phoenix Rising FC on Saturday, August 1, 2020. Phoenix comes into the matches reeling after back to back games where they dropped points on the road to arch rivals Orange County SC. The result of getting only 1 point from those 2 matches has seen Phoenix go from 1st to 3rd in Group B which is especially notable since only the top 2 teams in each group make the playoffs. Phoenix's 2-1-1 record and 7 points has them currently 2 points behind LA Galaxy II and 3 points behind San Diego Loyal, however they do have a game in hand on San Diego. This is a non-group match with El Paso playing in Group C, where they are currently in 2nd place with a 1-2-1 record and 5 points. In spite of their struggles in Orange County, and scoring just 1 goal between the 2 matches, PRFC's 11 goals scored and +8 goal differential are still the best marks in the Western Conference. El Paso was known for playing a bit of a plodding, defensive style in their inaugural season of 2019, and it looks like more of the same in 2020 as they have scored 4 goals and allowed 4 goals through 4 games so far this year.
Like Phoenix, El Paso comes into the match after playing back to back games against the same opponent, and with similar results. Locomotive FC came away with 1 draw and 1 loss in the matches against New Mexico United, both of which were at home. They are 1-1-1 since play has resumed, having won against Rio Grande Valley Toros on July 11, 2020. Looking back at last season it is worth noting that El Paso has 42 goals which was tied for the 2nd lowest total in the Western Conference, but 36 goals allowed were tied for the fewest scored. In other words, this is not a team that is looking to attack, well, ever it seems. Phoenix has tended to struggle with teams that play the counter attack, so this will be another early test for them in this shortened season. They did win both match-ups last season, but were held to only 2 goals in each. In fact, El Paso allowed more that 2 goals against just 4 times all season in 2019, and never conceded more than 3. Furthermore, they have not conceded more than 2 goals in a game to anyone since July 31, 2019.
Phoenix Rising vs El Paso Locomotive 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, August 1, 2020.
Referee assignments have referee Alan Martinez at center pitch, with Noah Kenyawani and Melissa Beck as the assistants, and Alan Rios will be the 4th official. Phoenix will be short an attacker this week with Santi Moar serving a suspension for an unusual incident with OC manager Braeden Cloutier that saw Moar sent off late in the 1st half of last week's match. The back line will however be bolstered by the return of defender Owusu-Ansah Kontoh following his one match ban. El Paso does not have any players listed on the League's discipline report.
This will be the 3rd meeting all-time between the Phoenix Rising FC and El Paso Locomotive FC. Phoenix won both of the previous match-ups, which were both last season; 2-0 at Southwest University Park in El Paso on April 13, 2019 and by a 2-1 score in Phoenix on August 10, 2019.
Five Points That Shouldn’t be Overlooked
To say that it's a must win match this early in the season might be eyebrow raising, but in a 16 game season there is no such thing as too early. Group B has emerged as a "Group Of Death" with what looks to be a 4 legged race for 2 playoff positions. It is also worth nothing that teams in Group B and Group D are already at a disadvantage, due to having 5 teams in their respective groups, while Group A and Group D have only 4 teams each. To give a further idea of "strength of groups"; so far this season Group B teams have combined to accumulate 32 points in the table; Group A teams have combined for 15 points; Group C teams have combined for 17 points; and Group D teams have combined for 19 points. The means that teams in Group A have an average of 3.75 points per team, Group C teams have an average of 4.25 points per team, Group D teams have an average of 3.8 points per team, while Group B teams average a whopping 6.4 points per team. In other words, if you are in Group B, every game is a must win game.
Episode 153: Swans Lake Of Fire
Looking at the Orange County matches, there are clearly a number of concerns, but to me the biggest is that lack of shots on target. They only managed to put a total of 4 shots on target between the two matches, which frankly, just isn't going to get the job done. While not overlooking that PRFC has very good defenders, and an outstanding goalkeeper in Zac Lubin, they are ultimately a team that is built to win by scoring. There is an old analogy with sports teams about a sports car and a pickup truck. The basic idea of the analogy is that some teams are built like a sports car and will beat anyone under ideal conditions. Other teams are built like a pickup truck, and they are never going to beat the sports car under ideal conditions, but when things get physical the pickup truck is going to prevail. Championship teams (and the 1990's NBA Chicago Bulls are the best example of this I can think of) can play like a sports car against the teams they are supposed to beat, but can also play like a pickup truck when the going gets tough. The 2018 club that made it to the Championship Final had some pickup truck in them, and that was proven when they beat Orange County in a very physical match in the Western Conference Finals. This year's club showed early on that it can be a great sports car, but managing just 1 shot on target last week makes me question whether they have that ability to lock in their hubs and shift into 4 wheel drive. Even though they are home, this is not going to be a sports car game, El Paso simply isn't going to play a style that will allow them to be.
Head coach Rick Schantz has made it very clear that the PRFC's tactical approach won them 20-games-in-row last year, and isn't going to be changing anytime soon. It's a solid point on his part, and you have to respect his commitment to the system, even if you are in the crowd that would like to see some tactical adjustments. That being said, if the tactics are not the problem, then it can only be the execution. The team grinded out wins over this El Paso team last season, and against The Football Club Formerly Known As Tulsa Roughnecks that were not "sports car games". As Schantz alluded to, they did not change the way they played in those matches, but were able to dig down, create and convert on enough chances to ultimately win. This lead me to ask myself, who are we missing most from last year's squad that brought a physical edge? Looking at the players that PRFC lost this offseason; Amadou Dia, Mustapha Dumbuya, and James Musa come to mind, because these were all guys that while plenty skillful, were also guys that were physical and had a grinder's mentality. While it in undeniable that Phoenix brought in some very talented players during the offseason, I am seeing a lot of guys that I would consider more technical than physical. Corey Whelan is the guy who walked off the pitch with the dirtiest and most grass stained kit on the pitch last week, but I am not sure there were quite enough other guys throwing their bodies around out there with him. Getting Kontoh back this week should certainly be a boost, and Darnell King looks like he is going to be another diamond, but the real question is who, besides Kevon Lambert is going provide the muscle in the deep midfield.
The biggest question for El Paso this year is where their scoring will come from. Last season Jerome Kiesewetter lead them in scoring with 12 goals, but he has departed for Miami of the MLS this year. So far 4 goals this season have come from 4 different players for El Paso. Josue Gomez Gomez was their second leading scorer last season with 6 goals, and with 1 goal and 1 assist so far this year is their only player with a goal involvement of more than 1 in 2020. Mexican forward Omar Salgado had 3 goals and 6 assists for them last season, and has started the last 2 matches at forward, scoring 1 goal. Gomez and Salgado have each started 2 out of the 4 matches this year, but only once together. Considering that they are Locomotive FC's two most proven scoring threats, and that they will be needing all the offense they can get tonight, I expect that we will see both in the starting lineup. The player to watch for them on defense is English left back Andrew Fox. The 27-year-old has become a staple on their defense, and is a guy who has experience playing in the EFL for Peterborough United and Grimsby Town, which is an impressive CV for a USL player. He is not a goal scorer, but has scored a goal this year, and is described as a dynamic player by El Paso manager Mark Lowry (an Englishman himself).
“Andrew grew in stature and confidence as the season went on. He is comfortable anywhere across the backline and he is a very accomplished footballer. He is another integral part of our defensive organization, who has an understanding of how we want to play with and without the ball. His character and personality off the field make him a joy to work with and I am looking forward to building on his success in 2019,” said Head Coach Mark Lowry in an interview with KTFOX Sports. (Read Full Article)
This week our odds come from sofascore.com and its looking like a bounce back match for PRFC. A bet on PRFC to win is going off at -175 which means you have to bet almost $2 for every $1 you can win. A bet of $10 would return for you roughly $16. Locomotive FC is +375 for the win which would pay you back $47.50 on a $10 bet. The draw is going off at +275 which would pay out $37.50 on a $10 bet. To me this line reads about as close to what you would expect as possible, and I don't get the feeling that the casino is either trying to encourage bets on one side or the other, or offering favorable lines on both sides to guard against the draw. A line like this reads that is a pretty safe bet to take the favorite, especially taking into account PRFC's record at home historically, this is a nice bet for the risk adverse, but isn't one you are going to retire off of by any means.
Phoenix Rising vs El Paso Locomotive Prediction
Like I have mentioned before these picks at the bottom are for entertainment purposes. A prudent pundit would note that nobody has EVER scored more than 3 goals against El Paso, and that they haven't allowed more than 2 goals in a game since last July. Well, I don't care because Phoenix Rising is a team that has set a lot of scoring records in the past year, and I believe they are going to add first team every to put the onion in the bag 4 times in 90 minutes against El Paso to that list. I think this team is going to come out angry after the last 2 matches in OC, and looking to put on a show for the cardboard cutout crowd! On the podcast, I said I felt I big night coming on for Junior Flemmings, and I am going to stick with that. He was Phoenix's best player in the first Orange County game, but seemed to struggle in the last game where he was moved back from the wing to midfield. With Moar suspended for tonight, I expect to see Flemmo back at the wing, and involved in multiple goals tonight. I will say captain Solomon Asante picks up a goal, and Joey Calistri subs on late and puts the game to bed.
Prediction: Phoenix Rising - 4 El Paso - 1