Sacramento Republic FC travel to Casino Arizona Field in Tempe, Arizona to play Phoenix Rising FC on Friday, August 23, 2019. It is the second and final USL Championship regular season match-up of the year between these Western Conference playoff contenders. Phoenix comes into the match with a chance to run their incredible winning streak to 15 games. They have not lost or drawn since May 4, 2019, and have not lost a match at home all season. They are top the Conference table, by a season best 9 points after knocking off 2nd place Reno last Friday Friday. Earlier in the season we were talking every week about how close the Western Conference was from top to bottom. Recently, Phoenix and Reno, along with Fresno FC have put some distance between themselves and the pack, but 4th through 13th place is still separated by just 6 points. Right now, Sacramento sits 6th in the conference with 34 points, which sounds safe in a conference where 10 teams will make the playoffs. However, a closer look shows that things are actually quite precarious, as they are just 3 points ahead of surging San Antonio FC (31 points) in 12th.
After struggling for most of the month of July, Sacramento has been on a pretty good run of form in going 2-2-0 over their last 4 matches. Last week they easily handled the struggling Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC 4-0 at home. Also, as mentioned above, San Antonio has been playing very well of late, except back on August 3, 2019 when Sacramento beat them 3-2, at San Antonio no less. That was the only game that San Antonio has lost since June 21. As impressive as that road win was, overall, Sacramento has been more down than up on the road this year where they are 4-1-6, compared with 6-3-3 at home. Playing Phoenix anywhere is a tall order, and at home is even taller. Adding yet another degree for difficulty for Sacramento is that it will also be one of Phoenix's famous Dollar Beer Nights. Last week, Phoenix extended their all-time record to 13-0-0, with 44 goals scored against just 11 conceded plus 8 clean sheets on Dollar Beer Nights. The success of this promotion even got them a full length feature on ESPN.com this week. During their current 14-match-winning-streak, Phoenix has outscored opponents 47-11 with 7 clean sheets.
Phoenix Rising vs Sacramento Republic Vital Information
Referee assignments have referee Ismir Pekmic at center pitch, with Noah Kenyawani and Bennett Savage as the assistants, and Jason Ulrich will be the 4th official. On the discipline report, neither team has any players suspended, but Sacramento has Keven Aleman, Ray Saari on the caution list, as is Phoenix's James Musa. These players are just one card away from his fifth on the season, which would result in a one-game-suspension.
This will be the 14th meeting all time between Phoenix Rising and Sacramento Republic FC. In the previous 13 meetings, Phoenix has won 2 time, Sacramento has won 6 times, and there has been 4 draws. It was a 0-0 draw when they last met at Papa Murphy's Park in Sacramento on April 27, 2019. The last time that Phoenix has beaten Sacramento in this series that dates back to 2014, was a 3-1 at Phoenix back on August 26, 2017. To give an idea of how long ago that was, the third and final goal by Phoenix on the day was scored in the 52nd minute by current assistant coach Peter Ramage.
Five Points That Shouldn’t be Overlooked
Each week recently, I have had the pleasure of talking about a new Phoenix Rising player, who has unexpectedly stepped up and tallied a big goal on the score sheet. It was at halftime of last week's match that I was discussing with Mark Richards that Mustapha Dumbuya was looking like Man of the Match based on his defensive play. In the second half, on top of continuing to play outstanding defense, Dumbuya became the 14th different player to score for Phoenix this season in the 61st minute. It was a goal that not only ultimately was the game winner, but gave Phoenix a 2 goal cushion in a game that had been very tightly contest up to that point. He also, was well deservedly name Man of the Match, and it was nice to see him get the recognition. He doesn't get the attention of scorers like Adam Jahn and Junior Flemmings, but Dumbuya has been one of Phoenix's most important acquisitions this season, and is a big part of the reason that their 22 goals allowed are the fewest in the conference.
Sacramento's offense presumably got a lot more potent last week with the signing of 32-year-old Danish forward Thomas Enevoldsen. He made his name in Denmark with the club Aalborg, and has also played in Belgium and the Netherlands before coming stateside last year. In 2018, he made quite an impression in scoring 20 goals, while also adding 9 more assists playing for Orange County SC. Last season against Phoenix, he only managed 1 goal and 1 assist in 4 head to head match-ups, both goal involvements coming in a 4-3 win at Phoenix on August 11, 2018. This season Enevoldsen signed with Eastern Conference contender Indy Eleven, but did really seem to find his rhythm. He managed just 5 goals and 2 assists in 20 games with Indy, however a return to the West Coast seems to have agreed with him. In his first appearance with Sacramento he scored 2 goals on 5 shots. Enevoldsen gives Sacramento a nice 1-2 punch with Cameron Iwasa, who has 11 goals and 4 assists on the season. Iwasa played in the number 10 position behind Enevoldsen against Colorado Springs, and I assume this will be the formation up front against Phoenix. Prior to last week, Sacramento had tried both Tyler Blackwood and Stefano Bonomo up front, but both had been largely ineffective. Blackwood, who long time Phoenix fans may remember, had his best season in 2016, scoring 8 goals for the team then known as Arizona United. This season, he had managed just 1 goal and 4 on target shots in 9 starts for Sacramento, and has since moved on to Saint Louis FC. Bonomo, another experienced USL player, who had a 10 goal season for Red Bulls II in 2017 hasn't fared much better. So far he has just 4 goal and 12 shots on target in 13 starts this year, and he was left on the bench against Colorado last week.
Congratulations to our favorite captain Solomon Asante, who scored a brace last week, and set a Phoenix Rising team record in the process. The 59th and 79th minutes goals, which both came from the penalty spot, and can both be seen be clicking here, were his 31st and 32nd club goals including postseason. His has been especially impressive from the spot this season, having netted 8 times out of 9 attempts. He leads the team in goals with 18, assists with 11, shots with 71 (44 of which have been on target) and chances created with 65. His shots on target percentage is an incredible 62%. To give you an idea of how impressive that is, LAFC's MLS MVP candidate Carlos Vela has put 57 out of 128 shots on target this year which is 44.5%. Asante also has a chance for another club record on Friday, this one being the single season scoring mark. Chris Cortez, whose career scoring record Asante broke last week, had a club record 19 regular season goals last season. With 18 this season, Asante has already topped Cortez's 2018 regular season total of 17. However, Cortez added 2 goals in the playoffs last year to run his grand total to 19. Solo will tie that record with a goal, or break it with a brace on Friday.
With the inconsistency of their forwards, as mentioned above, it is no surprise that Sacramento's 34 goals scored is just 13th best in the conference. However, if Enevoldsen is in the answer to their offensive issues, then they could go from a fringe playoff team, to a genuine contender. Their 26 goals allowed is 4th best in the conference, and just 4 more than Phoenix's conference leading 22. However, how they handled a potential disaster with their goalkeeping situation could be what really makes them dangerous. Josh Cohen had been extremely solid for them in goal this season, having recorded 7 clean sheets with a 67% save percentage, and just 17 goals allowed in 16 starts. However, in July Cohen transferred to Iraeli side Maccabi Haifa FC. His initial replacement Rafael Diaz did a pretty good job allowing just 9 goals in 6 starts with 2 clean sheets and a 64% save percentage. However, 2 weeks ago, Sacramento was able to make a huge upgrade for the stretch run when they acquired veteran Bobby Shuttleworth on loan from Minnesota United FC. In Shuttleworth they have acquired a guy with 9 seasons of MLS experience, and over 180 starts at that level. His first appearance came against Colorado Springs, and he came away from it with a clean sheet. Expect that Shuttleworth will get the start in net on Friday, which means Phoenix will have their work cut out for them.
While the focus recently has been on the impressive stats that Phoenix has put up on their recent winning streak, Dollar Beer Nights, and individual team records; there are some truly impressive season long league records that Phoenix has in their sites. They currently have 62 goals on the season through 23 games, which is just one short of their team record of 63 from last season. With 2 goals on Friday, they can set a new team record with 10 games still to play. The all-time league record for goals in a season is 75 by Reno in 2017. That means that Phoenix needs just 13 goals in their last 11 games to break that record. (It should be noted that Reno's 75 came in a 32 games season, so Phoenix will need 13 goals in their next 9 games to avoid any asterisks). Phoenix's goal differential also currently sits at +40, which is currently equal to the league record +40 the was set by Red Bulls II in 2016. This means all Phoenix will need to do is score 1 more goal than they allow from here on out to set that record.
Phoenix Rising vs Sacramento Republic Prediction
There have not been any easy games for Phoenix Rising lately. Any time a team goes on the kind of run that they are on, you are going to get the other side's A-game every time out. Not only that, but they are starting to see clubs change up their style of play to limit Phoenix's chances offensively. Phoenix has done a superb job of remaining patient and waiting for the game to come to the, they have also had a remarkable number of different guys step up to be the hero on a give night. Traditionally, Sacramento has given Phoenix trouble, and earlier this year, these two sides played to a 0-0 draw up in Sacramento.
Now that Phoenix has started getting some national media attention, the so-called prognosticators out there a predicting that the will be the night that Phoenix falls. Sacramento has clearly improved their club over the past month, and come in on a good run of form. Still, I don't think it will be enough. First and foremost, Phoenix's players take a special amount of pride in the Dollar Beer Night Streak, and they aren't about to let one slip easily. Second, as we have talked about above, Phoenix is having a historic season, while even with their recent signings Sacramento is probably no better than the 4th best team in the conference. The last several games have taken a full 90 minute effort for Phoenix to emerge victorious. Friday will be no different, but at the end of 90 plus stoppage I believe they will have made the record and even 15.
Prediction: Phoenix Rising - 2 Sacramento Republic - 1