LA Galaxy II travel to Cashman Field in Tempe, Arizona to play Phoenix Rising FC on Saturday, September 14, 2019. It is the second and final USL Championship regular season match-up of the year between these Western Conference rivals. Phoenix comes into the match on a 19-game-winning-streak, and with a win tonight, would double the previous league record of 10. They have not lost or drawn since May 4, 2019, and are coming off a 1-0 victory over Las Vegas Lights FC on Tuesday. They now hold an 18 point advantage over 2nd place Fresno FC in the Western Conference table (although with 2 additional games played). The combination of a Phoenix win, and a Fresno loss at Las Vegas tonight would clinch the Western Conference title for Phoenix. Their 73 goals scored are now just 2 shy of the all-time USL record of 75 by Reno 1868 FC in 2017, and there is a good chance we see that record equaled or broken tonight. It is also worth noting that Phoenix remains unbeaten (11-3-0) at home this season, and with a win or draw tonight will be just 2 games shy of an invincible home season.
LA Galaxy II come into the match in some of their best form of the season, and are unbeaten (3-1-0) in their last 4 matches. Their last loss came against Phoenix at Los Angeles back on August 3, 2019. This run has vaulted Los Dos into the playoff picture, and they now sit in 8th place with 39 points. This total has them just 1 point behind 4th place, but just 5 points ahead of 13th in the ever crowded middle of the table. Their currently -4 goal difference is the worst of any team that is above 14th in the table, so it appears that they are probably punching a bit above their weight class in 8th. As always is the case with MLS reserve teams the constant stream of players shuffling on and off of the roster makes it difficult to get a read on where this club actually ranks. In spite of the recent good form, with LA Galaxy in the heat to the MLS playoff race, and needing all hands on deck, I foresee Los Dos fading out down the stretch as they receive fewer reinforcements from the parent club. With the Galaxy scheduled to play Sporting KC on Sunday, I find it unlikely that any regular MLS players will be available for Galaxy II against Phoenix on Saturday.
One thing that LA has playing in their favor is rest, as they have not played since last Saturday, while Phoenix played on Tuesday. I don't expect that to be a huge factor though, as Phoenix manager Rick Schantz managed to get a number of key players, including captain Solomon Asante and starting goalkeeper Zac Lubin, rest on Tuesday. With the win on Tuesday, Phoenix further established that they have built not only an exceptionally talented, but also an exceptionally deep roster. I would also expect that we will see winger Junior Flemmings back in the starting lineup against LA. Flemmings subbed on at halftime against Las Vegas, in what was his first match back from Jamaican national team duty, and was a key contributor in the win.
Phoenix Rising vs LA Galaxy II Vital Information
Referee assignments have the referee as Elijio Arreguin, with Bennett Savage and Nicholas Gastelum as the assistants, and Isaiah Vlad as the 4th official. On the discipline report, Phoenix does not have anyone suspended, or under caution, for Los Angeles has Omar Ontiveros suspended for accumulation of cards, in addition to the Onitveros suspension, Nick DePuy is on the caution list, and his next booking will result in a one-game-suspension.
This will be the 13th meeting all time between the LA Galaxy II and Phoenix Rising. In the previous 12 meetings, Phoenix has won 9 times, Galaxy 2 have won 3, and there has been 0 draws. It was a Phoenix victory in the most recent of those, 43-2, at Los Angeles, back on August 3, 2019. Phoenix Rising have won the last 6 matches of in the series, and have not lost to Los Dos since August 31, 2016. All 3 of L.A.'s wins in the series came in 2016, when they swept 3 matches against Phoenix. Phoenix has swept the season series with L.A. in 2015, 2017, and 2018, and will be looking to do so for the 3rd consecutive season on Saturday.
Five Points That Shouldn’t be Overlooked
I have been talking about the play of Asante almost every week, and rightfully so, as he was recently named USL Player of the Month for August. During the month, he recorded 6 goals and 3 assists in leading Phoenix to an undefeated 6-0 record during the month. In spite of his record breaking, and very likely MVP season, it was his first time winning this honor. Asante got Tuesday off for the most part, only subbing on in the 84th minute. For a guy who is know for starting every game, it is safe to assume that he will be back in the starting lineup on Saturday to resume his assault on the all-time single season goal scoring record, which he is currently only 4 away from. When you get into looking at the peripheral stats, it really begins to show how dominate he has been. For example, he has drawn 48 fouls through 26 games, or almost 2 per contest.
As is the case with most reserve teams, constant roster flux has left Los Dos without a consistent scoring threat, especially after sending then leading scorer Frank Lopez to San Antonio FC. However, of late it seems like they may have found their answer in the form of Kai Koreniak. He currently leads the club in scoring with 7 goals, and 3 of those has come in his last 5 appearances. He did not play in the match against Phoenix last month, but I expect that he should be in the starting line-up tonight. Their next leading scorer is Ethan Zubak, who has 5 goals in just less than 1000 minutes for Los Dos this season, including one in the last match against Phoenix. He however, is a guy who bounces back and forth between Galaxy and Galaxy II, so it is unclear if he will be available against Phoenix. To give an idea of how much instability their is on the Los Dos roster, 18 different players have scored for them this season, but only 4 of those players have scored more than 3, and none have scored more than 10.
It has been a return of dominant defense for Phoenix, and in recent week's they have shown that they are a team that is capable of winning literally any style of game. It is rare to find a team that looks equally comfortable playing in a 1-0 game, or a 4-2 game, but Phoenix seems to fit that definition. It is hard to explain the idea of a dominant 1-0 win to someone who isn't a soccer fan, but that is exactly what it was against Las Vegas. Without their strongest attacking line-up on the field, Schantz adjusted to a system that focused on limiting Las Vegas from building up speed through the midfield. Once they had the lead, he was confident enough to rely on his defense to preserve the victory. A deeper look into the stats shows that Phoenix possessed the ball 60% of the time, but the one that really jumps out is 10 corner kicks for Phoenix, compared with 0 for Las Vegas. This stat really illustrates just how much more often the ball was on the Phoenix attacking end of the field. Furthermore, goalkeeper Carl Woszczynski, who hadn't played since April, made all 3 of his saves, to earn Phoenix their 3rd consecutive clean sheet.
Taking a look at the betting line, it is instantly clear that the professionals believe that there is a much greater chance of Los Dos beating Phoenix on the road, than they thought there was of Vegas beating them at home Tuesday. As you may remember, on Tuesday, you were only earning 36 cents for every dollar that you bet on Phoenix, where as tonight, you can earn 50 cents for every dollar that you bet. That might not sound significant, but the math breaks down to the oddsmakers thinking a Phoenix win is 33% less likely against LA, then against Vegas. Against Vegas, a draw was paying $3.40, for every dollar that was bet, where against LA, it is paying $2.90, meaning that it is seen as a more likely outcome than it was on Tuesday. Finally, a bet on a Los Angeles win is paying out $3.70 per dollar bet, compared with the $4.80 per dollar bet that was being offered on Vegas. Looking at the table, LA has a -4 goal difference, compared with -9 for Vegas, and LA has 5 more points in the standings. In other words, LA is a better team than Las Vegas, but not that much better. Due to Phoenix being at home tonight, I would ordinarily expect that to put the line somewhere similar to where it was against the slightly lesser team on the road Tuesday. The fact that the lines are significantly altered makes me thing that the pros feel like this is going to be a tough game for Phoenix, and are setting up the lines to guard against an upset.
We talked about defense a little bit earlier, but it is worth noting that LA's 50 goals allowed are exactly twice as many as Phoenix's 25 allowed. In spite of lacking a dominant scorer, Los Dos has enough depth to put the ball in the back of the net, but seem to lack to cohesiveness to play shut down defense. As I mentioned earlier, Phoenix is a team that is capable of playing any style of game, and in the case they are going to need to try to outscore L.A.. In the last meeting, Phoenix fell behind early, only to end up pulling out a win with a barrage of late goals. I will be expecting for Schantz to come out with an aggressive game plan tonight, and to try to build an early lead.
Phoenix Rising vs LA Galaxy II Prediction
As tempting as it is to pick this as the night that Phoenix gets upset, especially after reading the line, I'm not going to do it. At the end of the day, Phoenix has won 19 games in-a-row because they are just flat out better than the other teams they are playing. They are bigger, stronger, faster, deeper, and more talented than any other side, at least in the Western Conference, by a large margin. Phoenix may not win out for the rest of the year, but I have a hard time seeing them losing a game at home. Casino Arizona Field has been a fortress, and I expect that Phoenix will be scoring early and often tonight. I'm calling a brace for the well rested Asante, with Flemmings and late sub Jason Johnson accounting for the other two.
Prediction: Phoenix Rising - 4 LA Galaxy II - 2