Real Monarchs travel to Casino Arizona Field in Tempe, Arizona to play Phoenix Rising FC on Saturday, October 12, 2019. It is the second and final USL Championship regular season match-up of the year between these two clubs, and is also the deciding match int the inaugural Four Corners Cup competition. Phoenix is currently at 9 points, Real Monarchs have 10 points, and New Mexico United has 11. New Mexico cannot earn anymore points, thus meaning a win by either Phoenix or Real Monarchs on Saturday will give them the title, or if the game results in a draw, then it will be New Mexico taking home the Cup. Phoenix is coming off of a wild 5-3 victory over Portland Timbers 2 last Saturday, which put them up to 75 points on the season. With against Real Monarchs, Phoenix can surpass FC Cincinnati's all-time league record of 77 points, set last season. Real Monarchs currently are in 4th place, but are desperate for points as their 49 points are just 5 more than 10th place LA Galaxy II's total. The results of their final 3 matches could see them doing anything from hosting a playoff game, to falling out of the playoff race altogether.
Real Monarchs come into this match in good form, having won their last 2 matches, and 4 out of their past 5. They are not a team that has any trouble scoring goals either, as their 64 is the 3rd best total in the Western Conference. Their defense is their weaker side of the ball, as their 50 goals allowed are a middle of the road table. Overall, their +14 goal difference says that they are correctly positioned as the 4th place team in the conference. Phoenix comes into the match on their worst run of form since very early in the year, having gone 1-1-1 over their past 3 matches. Even their win against Timbers 2 last week was filled with plenty of moments that were not ones to write home about. That being said, all 3 of those matches were on the road, and all against teams that ultimately needed the game more than they did. Saturday, they will be facing another team that needs the game more than they do, but this time they will have home pitch advantage.
Phoenix Rising vs Real Monarchs Vital Information
Referee assignments have the referee as Malik Badawi, with Nicholas Gastelum and Bennett Savage as the assistants, and Paul Nothman as the 4th official. On the discipline report, Kevon Lambert is suspended for Phoenix for yellow card accumulation, and Real Monarchs have Josh Heard, Noah Powder, and Justin Portillo all under caution, a booking for any of these players tonight will result in a one-game-suspension.
This will be the 14th meeting all-time between the Real Monarchs and Phoenix Rising. In the previous 13 meetings, Phoenix has won 6 times, Real Monarchs have won 6 times, and there has been 1 draw. The most recent of those was a 4-2 Phoenix win in Utah on May 25, 2019. Last season, both matches were won by the Monarchs.
Five Points That Shouldn’t be Overlooked
In the Western Conference, Real Monarchs are one of the few that can compete with Phoenix in terms of scoring depth. Their top 3 scorers have combined to score 35 of their 64 goals on the year, but they have also gotten at least one goal from a whopping 20 different players this year. Leading the way for them is Douglas Martinez, who has 15 goals and has added 6 assists in just 20 games. Like all reserve teams, Real Monarchs have to deal with the shuffling of players such as Martinez back and forth from the MLS side. With MLS on a brief hiatus before the start of the playoffs this week, I expect that Martinez will be available against Phoenix. The other danger men for Real Monarchs are Maikel Chang with 12 goals and Jack Blake with 8.
For Phoenix, you cannot understate just how good their "Big 3" have been. Solomon Asante, Adam Jahn, and Junior Flemmings have now combined to score 52 goals! That is more than 10 of the other 17 teams in the Wester Conference have scored total. Perhaps even more impressive though is the guys they have behind them, any number of who would be starting regularly for just about any other club in the league. Last week we talked about Joey Calistri coming off the bench to score a brace against New Mexico. Last Saturday, it was Ben Spencer (who I had a chance to chat with this week in the interview below) getting a brace in what was just his second start of the season. Spencer has 4 goals for Phoenix in just 320 minutes this year, which works out to 1.13 goals per 90 minutes. Of course a number like that would be hard to maintain over the course of 30+ games, but is not a far cry to think that either Spencer or Calistri could be 15 goal scorers in a full time roll. Neither one of them is worried about that right now though, because as Spencer said during the interview is that the depth of this team is what separates it from other clubs that he has played on. That is perhaps the most impressive part of this squad it that every player is committed to the common goal of lifting the trophy at the end of the season, than they are focused on individual accolades.
Like many reserve teams, Real Monarchs have an inconsistent goalkeeping situation that has seen them start 4 different keepers at times this year. A majority of the action has gone to either David Ochoa (15 starts) or Andrew Putna.(11 starts). Ochoa has been the stronger of the 2 performers, posting a 69.9% save percentage, compared with 61.4% with Putna. Both players have taken terms serving as back-up for the MLS side as well, with Putna even starting 5 games at the MLS level earlier this season. With the MLS schedule on break, and assumedly both available, I would expect that they guy who has started more games, and performed better will get the nod between the pipes against Phoenix. On the season, Real Monarchs goalkeepers have faced 138 shots on target, or only just about half a shot more per game than Phoenix's keeper's, who have faced 124 (with 1 additional game played). This tells me that Real Monarchs trouble on defense has more to do with the keeper position than it does with the back line. This season, Phoenix goalkeepers have turned away an outstanding 73.4% of the shots that have faced, while Real Monarch keepers have saved just 63.8% combined. Ultimately, this is just further proof of how important it is to have consistency at this position in a league where many teams do not.
Unlike many USL Championship sides, Phoenix plays in a soccer specific stadium, and is regarded as having one of the nicer pitches in the league. That being said, when Phoenix played their last home match on September 14th, it was showing the wear of a season of games, and months of 110 plus degree temperatures. In the 4 weeks since, the grounds crew has rolled up their sleeves, and when I was out there on Thursday the pitch looked immaculate. Phoenix already enjoys one of the best home advantages in the league, and is now 2 games away from an invincible home season. Having locked up home field advantage for as far as they go in the postseason, it looks as if the pitch will be in form for them to be able to play proper football, and coach Rick Schantz's Liverpool inspired system. Throw in the fact that Supporters Groups Los Bandidos and The Red Fury will now be chanting in unison, Casino Arizona Field should become even more of a fortress.
Taking a look at the betting line, it seems like the oddsmakers think exactly that Casino Arizona Field is a fortress. While it is not surprising that Phoenix is favored, the amount that they are favored by tells me the pros don't think it matters that Real Monarchs need this game more. Phoenix is at -250, meaning you can only win $4 for every $10 that you bet on Phoenix to win. On the other hand, Real Monarchs are at +410, meaning you can win $41 for every $10 you bet on them to win. You don't see these type of odds if the line makers think Real has any shots at winning whatsoever. A draw is currently going off at +340, of $34 for every $10 you bet, which is also a very high number for a draw. In other words, they don't think that is happening either.
Phoenix Rising vs Real Monarchs Prediction
Real matches up better with Phoenix than most teams do, and historically they have give Phoenix problems, but at the end of the day Phoenix is just better than any other team in the conference. Phoenix has not lost at home all year, and the oddsmakers don't seem to think that has much chance of changing tonight. This could turn into a high scoring game, but I will play it conservative with my prediction.
Prediction: Phoenix Rising - 3 Real Monarchs - 1