San Antonio FC travel to Casino Arizona Field in Tempe, AZ to play Phoenix Rising FC on Saturday, September 7, 2019. It is the second and final USL Championship regular season match-up of the year between these clubs. Phoenix comes into the match on a 17-game-winning-streak. They have not lost or drawn since May 4, 2019, and are coming off a 3-0 victory over Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC last Saturday. They now have a whopping 15 point advantage over 2nd place Fresno FC in the Western Conference table (although with one additional game played). Their 71 goals scored are 17 more than any other team in the Western Conference, and they are now just 4 shy of the all-time USL record of 75 by Reno 1868 FC in 2017. For San Antonio, it has been a tale of two seasons, on that started with a 3-3 draw against this very Phoenix Rising club in San Antonio back on March 9, 2019. That result was the best of their early matches, as they went on to drop their next 3, and then struggled for most of the first half of the year. However, they have turned things around since, and have been one of the hotter teams in the conference, going 5-2-2 since the beginning of July. It is worth noting though that in their last outing they were thrashed 5-1 at lowly Tacoma Defiance.
One of the major turning points in the season for San Antonio was the acquisition of Frank Lopez, who has netted 5 goals in 8 appearances since coming over from LA Galaxy II. He is one of 6 players for San Antonio with 5 or more goals this season, so they do have a bit of scoring depth. One guy who will not be scoring on Saturday is former Phoenix Rising player Billy Forbes, who parted ways with San Antonio on Wednesday for undisclosed reasons. Forbes scored in the opening game against Phoenix, but had netted just twice since. Phoenix will be without one of their top scoring threats on Saturday, as winger Junior Flemmings is away with the Jamaican national team at the CONCAF Nations League. Look for Phoenix to slot Joey Calistri into Flemmings's spot, a player who has performed extremely well when filling in that role throughout the season.
Phoenix Rising vs San Antonio Vital Information
Referee assignments have the referee as Rosendo Mendoza, with Christian Lara and Melissa Beck as the assistants, and Robi Hullner as the 4th official. On the discipline report, Phoenix will have defender James Musa back after he served his one game suspension last Saturday, and the discipline report is clean for them. San Antonio has midfielder Jack Barmby one card away from his fifth on the season, which would result in a one-game-suspension.
This will be the 9th meeting all time between Phoenix Rising and San Antonio. In the previous 8 meetings, San Antonio has won 4 times, Phoenix has won 2 times, and there has been 2 draws. It was the aforementioned, season opening draw when the two clubs last met, and in 2018 they split the season series, with each club protecting their home pitch.
Five Points That Shouldn’t be Overlooked
The trio of Solomon Asante, Adam Jahn, and Flemmings have now combined to score a total of 45 goals this season, which is the same number that San Antonio has scored as a team. They also don't see much of a drop off with Calistri, who has 4 goals in 8 starts himself, stepping in for Flemmings. More good news on the offensive front for Phoenix is the return of Jason Johnson, he had 3 goals in just 4 starts before getting injured earlier this year, and word on the street is that he is expected back. I can't imagine anything more than a late sub appearance tonight, but if Johnson is anything close to full strength down the stretch, then Phoenix's offense could go to even another level.
Another impressive player for San Antonio recently has been Christian Parano. The 19-year-old Argentinian has scored 5 goals in his past 3 appearances, including a pair of braces. He earned USL Team of the Week Honors for both of those week's, but then inexplicably, he did not play in last week's loss to Tacoma. I can't find any new of injury on San Antonio's website or elsewhere, so my assumption is that unless told otherwise we will see Parano tonight. The above mentioned Barmby and Parano are tied for the club lead in scoring with 7 tallies apiece.
Things got back on track defensively for Phoenix last week, as they were able to record their first clean sheet in over a month, goalkeeper Zac Lubin's league leading 12th of the season. Lubin is currently maintaining a 79% save percentage, and has a microscopic .74 goals allowed per 90 minutes. The shut-out performance also allowed Phoenix to jump back into the conference lead for fewest goals allowed, now edging Fresno 25 to 26. They have also improved their goal difference to an unheard of +46. If they are able to maintain at least that differential for the rest of the season, they will also set a League Record in that category. Right now Solomon Asante and the Phoenix Rising are rewriting the record books with every game on a scope not seen on this continent since Babe Ruth and the 1927 New York Yankees.
Speaking of Asante, and how can you not. The man his having the kind of season where you will tell your grandkids that you got to see Solomon Asante's 2019 season. With a goal and and assist last week, he has run his season total to a ridiculous 20 and 14. Every time he tallies from here on out for the rest of the season, he will be etching his name further into both the team and league record books. At this point, Cameron Lancaster's USL Championship record goal total of 25, set last season, is the final frontier for Asante. Right now Asante is averaging .85 goals per 90 minutes, and including Saturday's game, there are 720 minutes left in the season. If Asante maintains his current pace, and plays every minute for the rest of the year, that would put him at 26.12 goals, and just breaking that record based on his current pace.
There have been a number of games for Phoenix recently on this winning run, where they have had to face teams that have "had their number" in one way or another. San Antonio is one of those teams, and there is no doubt that Phoenix's players remember just how lucky they were to escape the Alamo City with a point on opening night. Another thing about San Antonio is that they have been a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde team, and really tend to step up against the top clubs. After all, this is the same club that has beaten Reno and New Mexico United FC by a combined score of 9-1, and also have the 5-1 loss to Tacoma mentioned above, all in the course of the past few weeks. Although he had become an increasingly less important player for them, it will also be interesting to see if the Forbes situation ultimately has any effect, either positive or negative, on the team's psyche.
Phoenix Rising vs San Antonio Prediction
Whenever there has been a long winning streak like this, the temptation is to try to be a hero and predict "the end of the streak". A smart gambler knows the money is in betting on the streak to continue until it ends. I'll be even more boring here, and go with the most result that has come up during this run.
Prediction: Phoenix Rising - 3 San Antonio - 0