El Paso Locomotive travel to Casino Arizona Field in Tempe, Arizona to play Phoenix Rising FC on Saturday, August 10, 2019. It is the second and final USL Championship regular season match-up of the year between the two Western Conference clubs. Phoenix comes into the match, having won every game that they have played since May 4, 2019, a run of 12 straight. They are top the Conference table, but are still currently just 3 points ahead of 2nd place Reno 1868 FC. They do however have two games in hand. After a surprisingly strong start to the season for expansion El Paso, they have fallen back to earth in a big way. Not only are they barely clinging to 10th place in the table, they have no won since June 15, 2019 against lowly Tulsa Roughnecks F.C.. El Paso's winless run spans 7 games, including a 3-0 beating at the hands of New Mexico United in their most recent match.
El Paso has been impressive on defense this season, their 23 goals conceded is 3rd best in the conference, and just 4 more than Phoenix's conference best total of 19. Their offense has been equally unimpressive, as their 23 goals scored are the 4th lowest total in the league. By comparison, Phoenix's top two scorers Solomon Asante and Adam Jahn have combined to put the onion in the bag 26 times this season. For El Paso, Jerome Kiesewetter is the club's leading scorer with 10. He was USL Championship Player of the Month in May, when he had 3 consecutive braces. However, he has been out injured their past 3 matches, and hadn't scored in 4 games prior to that. It was reported that he may be back for the July 31st match, but wasn't, and reports of his return have not surfaced since. It will be an even taller order for El Paso tomorrow without him, especially when you consider that nobody else on their roster with more than 2 goals this season. There is also a good chance that the weather could play a part in things, as a short but possibly severe thunderstorm is expected to come through Phoenix in the early evening Saturday.
Phoenix Rising vs El Paso Locomotive Vital Information
Referee assignments have referee Guido Gonzales Jr. at center pitch, with Eric Wood and Bennett Savage as the assistants, and Jason Ulrich will be the 4th official. On the discipline report, neither team has player suspended, but El Paso does have two players Louis Herrera, Omar Salgado who are one card away, and Phoenix's James Musa is also just one card away from his fifth, which would result in a one-game-suspension.
This will be the 2nd meeting all time between the Phoenix Rising FC and El Paso Locomotive FC. In the previous meeting, Phoenix has was the winner 2-0 at Southwest University Park in El Paso back on 13 April 2019. It was Junior Flemmings and Ben Spencer scoring for Phoenix on the evening.
Five Points That Shouldn’t be Overlooked
Phoenix returns home for the first time since July 19, 2019. They manage to win their last 2 road matches by 1 goal each, which were a USL Championship record 11th and 12th consecutive wins. At home, they have not lost all season, and they have outscored their opponents by a combined score of 22-2 in their past 5 home matches. In fact, Phoenix has allowed just 3 goals in their last 8 homes matches, with 6 clean sheets. Phoenix's defense has been so good at home, that they have only allowed 23 shots, or just under 3-per-game to get to goalkeeper Zac Lubin. Of those, he has turned away 20, or a save percentage of 87%. They also had a recent home match against Orange County SC where they allowed just 1 shot to get to Lubin, and a game on May 18, 2019 against Las Vegas Lights FC, where they allowed 0 shots on goal.
As mentioned above El Paso are winless in their past 7 games, but that doesn't tell the whole story. In those 7 games, they have scored just 2 goals, and 1 of those was an own goal by OKC Energy FC. The only El Paso player to have scored in the past 7 games is Andrew Fox, a defender, and it was his only goal of the year. The last El Paso player to score before that was Kiesewetter in the aforementioned win over Tulsa in mid-June. Having let in just 11 goals over that time, including a pair of 0-0 draws, the defense continues to keep them in most matches. They need to find someone else to score goals for them though, if they plan to be a playoff team this year. At this point, Kiesewetter has scored 44% of El Paso's goals this season, in spite of playing in only 67% of their games.
Over this past 12 game run Phoenix has shown some of the marks of a truly special team, in that they can win in different situations, and beat you different ways. There have been plenty of blowouts, with wins of 6-0, 5-0, 4-0, and a pair of 3-0 results accounting for 5 of the victories. We have also, already mentioned in previous week's their ability to find a comeback win against Portland Timbers 2 with an unlikely brace from defender Amadou Dia. We their ability to win a tough road game against a team playing 11 men behind the ball, when James Musa scored just his second of the year to secure a win against Tulsa. However, last week against LA Galaxy II, they found themselves in perhaps their most precarious position yet. They were down by 2 goals 60 minutes into the match, on the road, and had not been able to find any scoring yet. It was Asante making the play that changed the game to get the first goal, and Phoenix the momentum. However, it was another somewhat unlikely hero in Joey Calistri that finished off the comeback with the 3rd goal of the game, which was also his 3rd of the season. Calistri is a talented scorer, and would be an every game starter on most clubs. He also filled in nicely earlier this year when Flemmings was at the CONCACAF Gold Cup. Last Saturday however, he didn't come on until the 79th minute, but just 4 minutes later became the hero with this worldie.
As if the injury to Kiesewetter wasn't enough, El Paso has been without starting goalkeeper Logan Ketterer due to injury the past 2 matches. Ketterer has been a bright spot for El Paso this year, with 8 clean sheets on the season so far. This number is good enough to have him tied for 3rd in the league. If Ketterer can't make the call tomorrow (and there are no reports that he will be back), then it will likely be 26-year-old Londoner Jermaine Fordah. He has made the last two starts in Ketterer's absence, and earned a clean sheet in what was his first ever pro start against Real Monarchs. Things didn't go so well for him last time out, as he let 3 of 4 shots on target get past him against New Mexico. Fordah is quite a story, who literally flew to the United States in search of a team. Prior to this season, the closest thing to professional experience he had was a single game for Connecticut in what is now USL League Two. With Fordah, you have a guy who has made a total of 2 career saves at this level, and has certainly never seen an offense quite like Phoenix Rising's (New Mexico is excellent but doesn't have as much depth). It could be an especially long night for El Paso if Ketterer is out.
The injuries have really exposed a weakness that most expansion teams have, and that is a lack of depth. With arguably their 2 most important players on the shelf, there is an extreme drop off in production.In the past 3 matches El Paso has started the pair of Salgado and Derek Gebhard up front. Salgado has been playing up front next to Kiesewetter most of the year, but has just 2 goals and 4 assists while appearing in all 21 games. Gebhard has had less than half as many minutes as Salgado on the year, but is playing in Kiesewetter's spot while he is out. He has 2 goals and 1 assist this season in 17 appearance. The numbers just aren't real good either. Salgado has just the 2 goals to show for 37 shots, 16 of which were on target. These numbers show that even when he is getting the ball to the keeper, it is usually a low quality attempt. He is averaging just 1 goal every 920 minutes this year, which is a decent number if you are a center-back, but 1 goal every 10 games is unacceptable for a guy playing big minutes up front. Gebhard is averaging a goal every 410 minutes, but that is still just about 1 every 4 and a half games for a guy that has played in a primary scoring role for most of his 9 starts. He is getting better quality shots than Salgado, but I also don't think Lubin and Phoenix manager Rick Schantz are losing much sleep over him.
Phoenix Rising vs El Paso Locomotive Prediction
The last 2 games for Phoenix have proven that just because a team is lower in the standings, or struggling recently, doesn't necessarily translate to an easy game. El Paso is an interesting team in that they possess the ball a lot for a team that doesn't score too much. In fact, the weirdest stat of the day might be that El Paso has out possessed every team they have played this year. In their last match-up against Phoenix, they out possessed Phoenix 63% to 37%, but lost the game 2-0. This type of keep-away didn't work in their building against Phoenix, and it has even less chance of working at Casino Arizona Field, where Phoenix Rising are undefeated on the year.
On top of everything else, it doesn't seem likely Kiesewetter or Ketterer will play, and if they do, neither of them has played in a month and surely will not be in top form. Phoenix's defense has neutralized much better players than Salgado and Gebhard before, and if they try to hold the ball against Phoenix they are going to get eaten alive on the counter attack. I like to have a lot of fun with these predictions from time to time, and Phoenix has been setting a lot of records lately. When they beat Tulsa 5-0 back in June, that was a team record. When they beat Austin Bold FC in July 6-0 they bettered that record. It's one month later, and this match-up seems to be tailor made for them. I am looking for them to tack one more onto that total, especially if they are playing toward the south end Supporters Section in the second half.
Prediction: Phoenix Rising - 7 El Paso Locomotive - 0