New Mexico United travel to Casino Arizona Field in Tempe, Arizona to play Phoenix Rising FC on Saturday, August 8, 2020. This match was originally scheduled to be played in Albuquerque, but had to be moved due to COVID19 concerns. Phoenix comes into the match having righted their ship last week with a 3-1 win over El Paso Locomotive. New Mexico, "one of the best teams in the Western Conference," according to head coach Rick Schantz, comes in off of a win themselves, having beaten OKC Energy FC 3-0 last Saturday. Both clubs come into the match with identical records of 3-1-1 (10 points). New Mexico is currently 1st place in Group C, and hold a 5 point advantage over 2nd place El Paso. Phoenix's Group B is quite a bit more competitive, as the 10 points has them 2nd in the group, 1 point behind San Diego Loyal, who have played 1 more game than Phoenix. It is also worth mentioning that LA Galaxy II sit in 3rd place with 9 points, and they have a game in hand over Phoenix after their last match was postponed due to positive COVID tests. As outlined in last week's article, Group B is shaping up to be a "Group Of Death" in the Western Conference. This makes it even more vital for PRFC to take care of business and get 3 points out of this non-group match-up.
Even though this is an out of group match this season, it is one that both PRFC and New Mexico fans alike, likely have circled on their calendar. "It is a derby game," added Schantz. "You have two strong fan bases, two relatively close communities and two good teams with distinct styles." To put it lightly, there is no love lost between the 2 clubs. It is a rivalry that culminated quickly, as 2019 was New Mexico's first season in the USL Championship, but over the course of three meetings between the clubs (all of which ended with the scored level at the end of scheduled time), plenty of bad blood was built up between the two clubs.
The fire was initially stoked by former PRFC forward Kevaughn Frater's antics both on and off the pitch. A talented but undisciplined player, and a bit of a loose cannon, Frater finished last season with 14 goals and 12 yellow cards for New Mexico.
It seems they decided he wasn't worth the trouble either though, as Frater is now plying his trade in India (updated now Israel). However, the guy who really poured gasoline on the first was defensive midfielder Josh Sugg's comments prior to last October's match which can be seen on the embedded Tweet by Owain Evans. The rivalry has in fact grown in prominence so quickly that a poll by Evans the week showed that PRFC fans are a dead even split on who they think our biggest rival is. The result is quite eyebrow raising when considering that Phoenix has played OCSC 23 times, including a Western Conference Finals match-up. To thicken the plot just a bit further, this will also be Santi Moar's first game against his old club. Last season Moar had 11 goals and 5 assists in 30 starts for New Mexico. The winger signed with Phoenix this offseason, and will be looking to get back on track after a 1 match ban last week.
Phoenix Rising vs New Mexico United 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 8, 2020.
Referee assignments have referee Lukasz Szpala at center pitch, with Noah Kenyawani and Melissa Beck as the assistants, and Alan Martinez will be the 4th official. (It is worth nothing that both Kenyawani and Beck served as assistants for last week's Phoenix vs El Paso match). Phoenix will have attacker Moar back this week after serving his 1 match ban for an incident with OCSC manager Braeden Cloutier, which gives PRFC a clean report for the week. New Mexico does not have any players listed on the League's discipline report.
This will be the 4th meeting all-time between the Phoenix Rising FC and New Mexico United. All 3 previous meetings happened last season, 2 of them in the USL Championship, and 1 in the U.S. Open Cup. All 3 matches finished level in regulation, with the Open Cup match eventually going the full 120 minutes, with New Mexico finally prevailing in penalty kicks. The most recent match was a 2-2 draw in Albuquerque on September 28, 2019, a night that saw Phoenix clinch the regular season points title.
Five Points That Shouldn’t be Overlooked
Last week I predicted a big match out of Junior Flemmings, and he delivered with not only a Man Of The Match performance, but also one of the prettiest goals that you will ever see. It is one of those goals where you are not sure if the footwork, or the finish is more impressive. It was Flemmo's 4th goal in 5 matches this season, and it seems that he has found yet another gear this season, which is impressive considering that he had 15 goals and 7 assists in just 23 starts last year. As pointed out by our friend Scott Brown, the critical error was made by El Paso right back Drew Beckie, who left Flemmings alone with the ball in the right corner. Given that space, Flemmings was able to build up enough momentum coming back into the box to dribble past Beckie and switch to his right foot and put the onion into the bag.
Adrian Fontes On The Beautiful Goal
I had give a mention to him last week for his impressive effort in less than ideal conditions against Orange County, but a guy who has really become a key cog, and doesn't get enough credit for PRFC is Corey Whelan. I saw a stat this week that really raised my eyebrows, and that is that Whelan ranks seventh in The Championship with 321 completed passes. Keeping in mind that Schantz's tactics rely on working the ball up from the back, a system that is based on Liverpool coach Jurgen Klopps philosophies, and that Whelan comes from the Liverpool academy, it seems very clear that Whelan is a player that Schantz has specifically targeted to be the man who starts the ball forward from the center back postion. Whelan also leads the team in minutes played with 450, and is the only PRFC player to play all 90 minutes of all 5 matches this season. At just 22-years-old, Whelan is a player that is only going to keep getting better.
With regular starting goalkeeper in Zac Lubin out, fan favorite Eric Dick got his first start in goal, and he was up for the task. Dick put in an impressive performance in stopping 6 of the 7 shots that were put on target. This included a highlight film double save in the second half. Dick was able to thrust away both a headed attempt that came off of an El Paso free kick, and the ensuing rebound. The performance was enough for Dick to earn USL Championship Team Of The Week honors along with forward Rufat Dadashov, who had a goal and an assist in the El Paso game. Both Dick and Dadashov, who now has 4 goals and 2 assists through 5 games, were acquired by Phoenix this offseason, and seem to be paying immediate dividends.
Due to the fact the New Mexico is a "Collective", out of respect I will not be writing about any of their individual players. For statistical record keeping purposes the league offices have thus far assigned Chris Wehan with 4 goals and 1 assist, Devon Sandoval 2 goals and 1 assist, and Armando Moreno 1 goal and 1 assist. No other member of the collective has been credited with a goal involvement of more than 1 thus far. I would like to however point out that as heated as the rivalry is on the field, and while we will hate each other for 90 minutes tonight, the New Mexico United fans, and their supporters group The Curse are good, passionate football people. Ultimately, it takes passion from everyone involved for a rivalry to get this heated this quickly. While we want to kick your butts on the field, it goes without saying that it is a good thing for the USL and the sport in the U.S. in general to have teams like New Mexico be successful. Here's to another meeting between these 2 clubs this year (which could only occur in the playoffs). Also, a special shout-out to Andrew Bolte who has come on the show as a guest, and somehow manages to not only support New Mexico, but also Rochdale, a rival of my beloved Accrington Stanley.
Across The Pitch Episode 96: Rock 'N Curse
This week our odds come from betfair.com and I have posted the respective payouts on a $10 bet to the right. As you can see, while PRFC are favored, a bet on either team to win pays out more than even money. When you see a situation like this, it means that the casino is encouraging action on both sides of the table to guard against paying the draw. Also, even though the draw is the highest available payout, a +220 line on a draw is much lower than average, another hint that they are guarding against the draw. For example, last week against El Paso the draw was at +249 which is closer to what the casino's offer for a draw on most matches. Last year these teams drew 3 times out of 3 (PK's don't factor in the gambling world), so it is easy to see how we can get to this kind of line.
PRFC vs NM Betting Payouts
Some gamblers might put money on both sides to win, figuring that sooner or later one side or the other is going to get a result out of this match-up. This kind of lower risk, lower reward strategy is really only useful if you are going to be placing a large bet (say $500 on each side or more), and given the historical results this certainly isn't the game to try it. To me, the smart money is on the draw. If I were actually betting on this match I might but $10 on Phoenix, and $10 on the draw. Given the fact that Phoenix has been nearly unbeatable at home the past few seasons, this would be the safest way to go home with some profit.
Phoenix Rising vs New Mexico United Prediction
It is going to be a tough match between two talented clubs that both want to win, in a series that has a history of draws. The oddsmakers seem to be leaning toward another draw, and it's clear that neither one of these teams is going to go down without a fight, or possibly even with all 11 men still on the pitch by the time this match is over. New Mexico has proven they are one of the few teams that can play Phoenix to an even score at Casino Arizona Field. It would be easy to say that neither one of these teams is going to give and inch, and that both have enough scoring talent that we will end up with yet another draw. That being said, this morning on Twitter PRFC captain Solomon Asante said he has been "patiently waiting" for this match and to "expect 3 points tonight". When captain Solo says to expect 3 points, then that is good enough for me!