Portland Timbers 2 travel to Casino Arizona Field to play Phoenix Rising FC this Saturday, March 7, 2020. It is the first USL Championship match of the year for these Western Conference foes. Phoenix finished 1st place in the Western Conference last season with 78 points, before being upset in the 2nd round of the playoffs by Real Monarchs. Portland finished the 2019 season with just 38 points, or less than half of Phoenix's total. They finished 14th in the table and missed the playoffs in what was a dismal finish to a once promising season, as the lost each of their final 5 matches of 2019. Phoenix was the dominant team in the Western Conference in the 2019 regular season, as they lost just 4 matches, scored 89 goals (most in the conference), and conceded just 36 goals (tied for fewest in the conference). Portland didn't have any trouble scoring in 2019, as their 65 goals were 4th most in the conference, and the most of any team that missed the playoffs. Their issues came on the defensive side of the ball, where their 71 goals conceded was the 2nd most in the conference.
Phoenix is likely to be a dominant offensive team again this season. They return 2019 League MVP Solomon Asante, who scored 22 goals and added 17 assists last season. Also returning is Jamaican winger Junior Flemmings, who had 15 goals and 7 assists last season. They will miss striker Adam Jahn up front, as Jahn, who scored 17 goals for Phoenix last season has departed to Atlanta United of the MLS. However, is loss should be made up for with the additions of Santi Moar, who scored 11 times for New Mexico United last season, and veteran striker Rufat Dadashov. Dadashov is a 28-year-old Azerbaijan International, who has scored 14 goals over the past 2 seasons while playing for Preußen Münster in Germany's 3 Liga. Last season Portland was lead in scoring by Dairon Asprilla, who scored 9 times for Timbers 2 in just 9 appearance, while splitting time with the parent MLS side. Given that he subbed on in the MLS Portland Timber's opening match against Minnesota United last Sunday, it looks likely that he will be a full time MLS player this season. Foster Langsdorf had 7 goals and 6 assists for Portland to tie for the club lead in goal involvement, but he has departed for Reno 1868 this offseason. All of this adds up to a lot of uncertainty up front for Portland manager Cameron Knowles.
Phoenix Rising vs Portland Timbers 2 Vital Information
Referee assignments have referee JJ Bilinski at center pitch, with Nick Balcer and Noah Kenyawani as the assistants, and Marco Villa will be the 4th official.
This will be the 14th meeting all time between Phoenix Rising and Portland Timbers 2. In the previous 13 meetings, Phoenix has won 7 times, Portland has won 5 times, and there has been 1 draw. It was a Phoenix victory in the most recent of those, 3-5, at Portland, on October 5, 2019. That game featured a brace from departed Phoenix striker Ben Spencer, and Portland's Adrian Diz Pe was sent off in the 66th minute.
Listen To Our 2020 Phoenix Rising Season Preview Featuring @PRFCFANSHOW
Five Points That Shouldn’t be Overlooked
Phoenix comes into the season as one of, if not the favorite to win the league. That however doesn't mean that they are a team without questions marks. Last year, the midfield was a strength, and it appears to have gotten even stronger with the addition of Moar. They did lose James Musa, who moved on to Minnesota United of the MLS, but with Kevon Lambert still in the mix, they are in capable hands at that position. Losing Jahn is a concern, but even if Dadashov doesn't live up to expectations, this team has no shortage of scoring punch. The real concern comes on the back line where they lost both Amadou Dia to Sporting KC of the MLS, and Mustapha Dumbuya to Tampa Bay Rowdies. Dia had anchored Phoenix's back line for the past 3 seasons, and is the kind of experienced player you can't replace overnight. Dumbuya was one and done with Phoenix, but he started 26 matches in 2019, and was in the conversation for team defender of the year. The club will lean heavily on Owusu Ansah Konto, who started 22 matches for Orange County last season to fill the void.
Phoenix returns Zac Lubin as goalkeeper this year, and last year he was one of the best in the league with an 80% save percentage, and 13 clean sheets in 29 starts. However, there is a new backup keeper, as Eric Dick, who has quickly become a fan favorite, replaces the retired Carl Woszczynski. Dick has a solid preseason, and looks to be a great addition to the squad. I expect that Lubin will be the every game starter given his performance last season, but head coach Rich Schantz has shown that he is not afraid to make a switch at the keeper position in order to ride the hot hand. The club also signed Landon Carter this week to be the club's 3rd keeper. Carter, a Gilbert native, became the 3rd player to sign with Phoenix's brand new development academy.
A player to watch out for on the Portland side of the ball is Blake Bodily, a midfielder from Portland's academy, who signed on as their MLS Homegrown Player for the 2020 season. Bodily played collegiately at the University of Washington, and played in 56 games over 3 seasons, where he recorded an impressive 17 goals and 18 assists. The club also added 5 new players to their roster this week, including defender Williams Velásquez on loan from Premier League side Watford F.C.. The 5 signings make it a total of 9 new players that Portland has added since January. They do have a few familiar faces returning. This includes goalkeeper Jake Leeker, who started 17 matches for them last season, and is likely to be in goal on Saturday. Although Leeker had just 1 clean sheet last season, he did have an impressive 67.4% save percentage. Last season Leeker must have felt as if he was trapped inside of a pinball machine on most nights, as he faced 95 shots on target, or 5.6 per game. All of this added up to a dismal 2.00 goals allowed per 90 minutes for Leeker. Plain and simple, the defense in front of him is going to need to perform better if Timbers 2 expect to rebound back to the playoffs this year.
Back by popular demand is my gambling analysis section. In this section I make a prediction on the game based on "reading the line". This prediction will often differ from my final prediction, and is based strictly on analyzing the betting line that has been set by major casinos. How it works is that casinos don't always set the line based on who they think is going to win or lose so much, as they set it in a way to make sure that the casino doesn't lose money. Basically how it works is looking for something unexpected about the odds. If the odds are playing close to how a game would expect to play out based on team records, historical matchups, home vs away etc, then that generally means the casino doesn't have much interest one way or another. In these games the line doesn't tell us much. However, once in awhile you will see a line that is wildly different than expected, and these are the ones that we look out for. For example, if you look back to my article about the Fresno game last September, you will see that I noted that the line that night read for a Phoenix loss that night, and is of course the night that their 20-game-winning streak came to an end. For Saturday, according the MGM Grand, a bet on Portland will pay out $4.75 for every dollar that you bet, while a bet on Phoenix will pay out less than 40 cents for every dollar that you bet. A draw will pay out $3 for every dollar that you bet. In other words, nothing unexpected or out of the ordinary is expected to happen tomorrow.
I wanted to take this last paragraph in the section to wish a warm farewell to someone who has been vital to the growth and success of Phoenix Rising over the past few years, and that is Sam Doerr. He came over to Phoenix Rising from San Antonio, and as Vice President of marketing has not only been the clubs biggest voice on social media, but a huge part of creating the culture that Phoenix Rising has today, and was of course the mastermind behind Dollar Beer Night. During the offseason Sam departed for a job with another local team, the NHL Arizona Coyotes, and has already gone to work with bringing his unique and innovative style to a brand new sport. I just wanted to take a moment to let Sam know just how appreciated he is, and just how much every Phoenix Rising fan knows what an integral part he has been in making this club what Adam Jahn referred to as "The Gold Standard" on our recent interview with him. Sam, you will be missed at Casino Arizona Field this year, but we wish you the best of luck going forward and years of success ahead with the Coyotes!
Phoenix Rising vs Portland Timbers 2 Prediction
The first game of the season is almost always one that bears unusual results, or where anything can happen. Be it rust, unfamiliarity with teammates and or system, nerves, or all of the above, no team is in midseason form the first week. If they were, it wouldn't be called midseason form. When a team has turnover, as the Phoenix Rising have this offseason, things always take a little additional time to gel. That being said, by USL standards, the Phoenix Rising have a had a relatively low amount of turnover, and nothing compared Portland Timbers 2.
Outside of Leeker, midfielder Carlos Anguiano, and a handful of backline players, it is a whole new squad for Knowles this year. Portland underachieved last season, and is likely to be stronger and make a run at the playoffs in 2020, but an offensive juggernaut like Phoenix is just a bad match-up for Portland. As noted, Portland was among the worst defensive teams in the league last season, and they surrendered 9 goals over the course of 2 games against Phoenix. Last year Portland was a team that needed to outscore teams to win, and Phoenix is just not a team you want to get into a shoot-out with. I expect that we will see a fun and fast paced game on Saturday night that will ultimately end in a fairly dominant Phoenix victory.
Prediction: Phoenix Rising - 4 Portland Timbers 2 - 1