Reno 1868 FC travel to Casino Arizona Field in Tempe, Arizona to play Phoenix Rising FC on Friday, August 16, 2019. It is the second and final USL Championship regular season match-up of the year between the two Western Conference clubs. Phoenix comes into the match, having won every game that they have played since May 4, 2019, a run of 13 straight. They are top the Conference table, and are 6 points ahead of 2nd place Reno going into Friday's match. They also have two games in hand, and can put some real distance between themselves and 2nd place with a win tonight. Reno has also been playing very well in recent months, however, a 4-1 loss to San Antonio FC at home last week has put them in a must win position for this match. Not only do they need to points if they hope to catch Phoenix, but Fresno FC is breathing down their necks, just point back, and also with 2 games in hand.
Phoenix has been rewriting both the club and league record books every time they have taken the field recently. Their current 13-game-winning-streak is already a league record that they are looking to extend tonight. This is also one of Phoenix's famous Dollar Beer Night's, where they currently have a 12-0-0 record all-time. Reno tried to copycat this promotion when Phoenix visits Greater Nevada Field in June, but things didn't work out too well for them that night. This of course means, that among all of the other records, Reno could become the first club to lose to Phoenix on a dollar beer night twice in the same season. There are also some individual records in site. It has been confirmed for me this week by Phoenix Rising's Jose Bosch, that the team is using combined regular and postseason totals for official record keeping purposes. This has Chris Cortez as the club's all-time leading scorer with 31 goals. Solomon Asante, who currently has 30 club goals including postseason can tie with a goal, or even take the record tonight with brace.
Phoenix Rising vs Reno 1868 Vital Information
Referee assignments have referee Mark Allatin at center pitch, with Stephen McGonagle and Cameron Siler as the assistants, and Isaiah Vlad will be the 4th official. On the discipline report, Reno has midfielder Eric Cavillo suspended after his double yellow send off against San Antonio. On the caution list, Reno has Kevin Partida one card away, and Phoenix's James Musa is also just one card away from his fifth, which would result in a one-game-suspension.
This will be the 6th meeting all time between Phoenix Rising and Reno. In the previous 5 meetings, Phoenix has won 2 times, Reno has won 1 times, and there has been 2 draws. It was a 0-0 draw when they last met at Casino Arizona Field, back on October 6, 2018. Phoenix Rising were the victors, 3-0, the last time the two clubs met at Reno back on June 18, 2019.
Five Points That Shouldn’t be Overlooked
I have talked a lot over the past few weeks about how Phoenix seems to have someone new step up every time they are in a tight spot. Last week, it was another 1 goal victory, with one of those coming in the form of midfielder Jose Aguinaga's first goal of the season. Aguinaga has been one of Phoenix's most consistent midfielders all season, and is a key cog in moving the ball forward for them. He has 4 assists on the season, including a big 2 assist game back in May against Real Monarchs SLC, a match that was a real turning point in the season for the club. His first goal of the year couldn't have come at a better, time, and he was named Man of the Match against El Paso Locomotive FC last week. Aguinaga became the 13th different player to score for Phoenix this year.
The top scoring threat for Reno is Corey Hertzog, who has had a very consistent season, scoring 11 goals and adding 5 assists in 21 starts. Hertzog has had to shoulder more of the scoring burden for Reno over the past 2 months, since Jamaican striker Brian Brown left the club for Albania. Brown had been extremely impressive, having scored 8 goals in just 11 appearances this season. Needless to say, his departure has left Reno in a bit of a scramble to find consistency up front. They have tried Cade Cowell and Daniel Musovski up front, and more recently is has been Aiden Apodaca. In the last match against San Antonio, Hertzog started by himself up front, but that doesn't seem to have worked out for them. Apodaca has been impressive in limited time, with 4 goals in less than 500 minutes played. I expect we will see him up front next to Hertzog in tonight's Starting 11. In spite of this inconsistency up front, Reno's 51 goals scored are still good enough for 2nd in the conference behind Phoenix.
It is absolutely impossible to talk too much about Asante and the see that he is having. Not only is he leading the league in goals and assists, but his average player rating of 8.25 is also best in the league (explained here). He is currently the only USL Championship player with a rating higher than 8. For those who aren't into advance metrics, all you need to know is that puts him in a percentile with the top 5% of players in the world. Additionally, his 2.1 shots per match on target are best in the league, and his 15 chances created is tied for first. In addition to Asante, Phoenix has two other players among the league scoring leaders. Forward Adam Jahn is second on the club with 11 goals, to go along with 4 assists. Winger Junior Flemmings has 9 goals, and needs just 1 more to become the 3rd Phoenix player to reach double figures this year. He also has 7 assists, and it's fair to think that had he not missed time to the CONCACAF Gold Cup that he might already be at a double-double. There are 9 teams in the Western Conference who have scored less than the 36 combined goals that Asante, Jahn, and Flemmings have registered this season.
While Reno has come impressively close to keeping up with Phoenix's prolific offense, the defensive end of things is where the separation starts to show. It doesn't really take much more than knowing the Phoenix goalkeeper Zac Lubin has conceded just 12 goals in 19 starts. Meanwhile, Reno's duo of Matt Bersano and J.T. Marcinkowski have each started 12 games, conceding 19 and 18 goals respectively. Obviously these two are pretty frequently rotated, and since is was Marcinkowski with the rough outing last week against San Antonio, I am going to guess that Chandler, Arizona native Bersano could get the start in his hometown tonight. Bersano's .695% save percentage is in the range that you are looking for, which seems to point to the problem potentially being with the back four, more than the keepers themselves. That being said, it wilts in comparison to Lubin's otherworldly .821% save percentage.
Phoenix is not just on an incredible run since May, and undefeated on Dollar Beer Night's, they are also unbeaten at home all year. No visiting club has left Casino Arizona Field with more than a single point in 2019, but if there is a team that is up for ruining the party, then Reno could be the one. Reno was won 7 of their last 9 matches (although 2 of those losses came in the past 4). They are also road warriors, having posted a solid 6-4-2 record away from home this year. The other thing that comes into play is that they are going to be a desperate team tonight. With just 9 games to play after tonight, 6 points back, and Phoenix owning 2 games in hand, Reno is on the ropes to say the least. Phoenix appears to be a team that has the killer instinct of a champion, and tonight they can essentially step on Reno's necks. Realistically, if Phoenix goes up 9 points at this point in the season with no head to head matches remaining, it will be just about impossible for Reno to catch them. However, if Reno were to pull the upset tonight, if could be the type of thing that breathes life into them for a late push, or even push doubt into the minds of Phoenix. It is also important to keep in that Phoenix embarrassed Reno 3-0 in their building just 2-months-ago. Reno is going to be out for revenge for that tonight as well. As far as things are stacking up, this looks like it will be an epic battle for the ages tonight.
Phoenix Rising vs Reno 1868 Prediction
It seems as if every time I pick a big blowout, things end up getting pretty intense. Every time I pick it to be close we have a blowout win. So...
Prediction: Phoenix Rising - 1 Reno 1868 - 0