Portland Timbers 2 travel to Casino Arizona Field to play Phoenix Rising FC this Saturday, June 29, 2019. It is the first USL Championship match-up of the year between these clubs, who currently occupy the top 2 spots in the Western Conference table. Phoenix comes into the game with 32 points, currently top of the table, while Portland is currently in 2nd, with 27 points and the goal difference tiebreaker over 3rd place El Paso Locomotive F.C.. Phoenix's league leading +26 goal differential is 17 better than Portland's +9 difference, which is still goo enough for second best in the conference.
These two clubs are familiar opponents, having met at least twice each year since 2015, and had their inaugural match up in the 2014 U.S. Open Cup, a match that was won by Phoenix. Last season, two out of the three match-ups were won by Phoenix, including a playoff game in Phoenix last October. Coming into the match, Phoenix continues to be the hottest team in the league, having won their last 7 in-a-row. Portland had been on a good run of form as well, and had been on a 6 game unbeaten run before losing to Reno 1868 FC this past Wednesday. This of course means that Portland comes into the match on just 2 days rest, while Phoenix will have the fresher legs, not having played since last Saturday.
Phoenix Rising vs Portland Timbers 2 Vital Information
Referee assignments have referee Matthew Thompson at center pitch, with John Krill and Karsten Gillwald as the assistants, and Isaiah Vlad will be the 4th official.
This will be the 12th meeting all time between Phoenix Rising and Portland Timbers 2. In the previous 11 meetings, Phoenix has won 5 times, Portland has won 5 times, and there has been 1 draw. It was a Phoenix victory in the most recent of those, 3-0, at Phoenix, on October 19, 2018. That game was in the quarterfinal round of last year's Western Conference playoffs, and spelled the end of Portland's 2018 campaign.
Five Points That Shouldn’t be Overlooked
I'm beginning to feel repetitive every week going on about the run of form that Phoenix has been on, but how can you not? One game shy of the mid-point, their 41-15 goal difference translates to a pace of 87-32 (or +55) over a full 34 game season. On their current 7 game winning streak, they have outscored their opponents 26-4!
As a "number 2 team", or to borrow a term from Major League Baseball, essentially the Triple A farm team for the MLS Portland Timbers, Timbers 2 have a bit of a Catch 22 in terms of their roster. The positive of course is that on any given day, they could find their bench flush with MLS quality talent if the the big club is on an off-week for instance. Conversely, those players can be called back up to the MLS club leaving head coach Cameron Knowles scrambling to fill holes in the line-up. A perfect example is Dairon Aspirlla, who leads the team scoring with 6 goals, but has done that in just 6 games while bouncing back and forth between the two tiers. Having started and played 89 minutes for the MLS side on Wednesday, it is unlikely he will be with Timbers 2 against Phoenix.
If you want to know why Phoenix has been so hot as of late, you really have to look no further than their captain Solomon Asante. There isn't a player in the league that is playing any better than Asante, and the MVP race in the USL seems to be turning into a two horse race between him, and New Mexico United's Kevaugh Frater. In his past 6 matches he has scored 7 goals and while adding 4 assists. Not only that, but he has shown an uncanny ability to find unusual angles and score from almost anywhere on the field. All the while continuing to make key plays defensively, and just causing overall havoc for the opposing attack by intercepting passes at the midfield.
Venezuelan forward Brayan Hurtado netted Portland's only goal against Reno and was by far their most active player on the offensive end. The goal was his 4th of the season and ties him for second on the club with Foster Langsdorf and Modou Jadama. Jadama, a defender started and played the whole game for the MLS side Portland Timbers this past Wednesday against Montreal Impact, it was his first call up of the season. Langsdorf also made an appearance with the MLS club on Wednesday, although he did sub on for just the final minute. Missing these guys against Reno on Wednesday, Hurtado looked to be on an island, and the team really fell apart after halftime. If Langsdorf and Jadama are both unavailable against Phoenix then it could turn into a very long night for Portland.
The top 4 scorers for Portland Timbers 2, all mentioned above, have combined for 18 goals on the season. For Phoenix, Asante (10), and Adam Jahn (9) have combined for 19 goals. Additionally, Phoenix continues to be without Jamaican's Junior Flemmings (8 goals/Gold Cup) and Jason Johnson, who had 3 goals in 8 games before getting injured. When Phoenix's Reggae Boyz return, it literally might not be enough footballs to go around.
Phoenix Rising vs Portland Timbers 2 Prediction
It doesn't get any bigger than a match up of number 1 vs number 2 in a conference, but this one just doesn't quite have that feeling. First, the gulf in goal differential seems to suggest that the difference in talent between these two clubs in greater than their distance in the standings. Second, with Portland being a "number 2 team", they lack the roster consistency to be taken as a serious contender due to the constant shuffling of players between them and the big club. Finally, by almost anyone's estimation, if anyone is to challenge Phoenix in the West this season, it will be New Mexico United.
That being said, on paper, this is still the best team that Phoenix has faced during their current hot streak. However, at home and with extra rest, Phoenix has all the tangible advantages on top of being the better club on paper. Take into account that Phoenix had no problem with Reno on short rest last week, and Portland didn't look very good in losing to Reno this past Wednesday, this almost starts to look like a mismatch. It will be especially daunting for Timbers 2 if Langsdorf and Jadama are not available. The only thing that could catch up Phoenix tonight would be getting a bit too caught up in reading their own clippings, but head coach Rick Schantz seems to be the steady hand at the helm of this ship to prevent that from happening. It's been a popular score for Phoenix lately, so I will let it ride again.
Prediction: Phoenix Rising - 3 Portland Timbers 2 - 0