The expansion San Diego Loyal SC, managed by USMNT and MLS legend Landon Donovan, traveled to Casino Arizona Field in Tempe, Arizona to play Phoenix Rising FC for the first time on Saturday, August 15, 2020. It was a match that pitted 1st place vs 2nd place in USL Championship Group B play, and ended in a 2-0 Phoenix victory. The goals were scored by Junior Flemmings and Darnell King picking up the goals, and PRFC goalkeeper Zac Lubin making 5 saves to earn his 2nd clean sheet of the year. Phil, Arran, and Matt were on hand with coverage throughout the game. In a new series called Phoenix Rising Round-Up, we will be compiling all of our pre, post, and in matches analysis, plus any other highlights and other media such a post match interviews in one convenient location, along with added commentary and insights.
A massive thank you to Phoenix Rising Director of Marketing and Communications Jason Minnick for all of his help with allowing us to continue with on-site coverage of the club during the current pandemic. We do not take lightly the responsibility of bringing coverage of the best football/soccer club in the United States to the very best football/soccer fans in the United States, and are working hard each week to expand our coverage and upgrade our equipment to bring the very best coverage to thousands of rabidly passionate PRFC supporters who are at home watching the club. These post match Round-Up's are the next step in that, and will be published after each Home match for the rest of this season. Before we get started, I also wanted to thank everyone for the kind responses to my article from yesterday, I am overwhelmed by the response and thank each and every one of you for reading.
Just what exactly is behind the 5-4-1 formation that PRFC manager Rick Schantz draws on the lineup card. Is this something Arsene Wenger used to do? Or perhaps it's just a quick way for him to remember the combination for the lock on his office door. The mystery continues... Otherwise, the big surprise was seeing the Joey Calistri was starting at right back in the place of regular starter Owusu-Ansah Kontor. We discussed this and more in our pregame show below.
Phoenix Rising vs San Diego Loyal Pre-Match
For the first 25 minutes of the match PRFC dominated possession and spent a majority of the time in their attacking end. In spite of having a number of good chances, winning several corners, and dominating in the midfield, every chance was stymied early on. San Diego centerback Grant Stoneman was a standout, especially in the first half, and along with goalkeeper Jake Fenlason were the key figures behind keeping Phoenix off the board early on.
There are some keeper's who are much more valuable than their raw save figures because they are very aggressive at cutting off, diving on, or punching away balls that come into their area. Ryan Allsop of Wycombe Wanderers comes to mind. Fenlason seems to fit that mold and would easily have faced more than the 7 on target attempts that he did without playing the ball as aggressively.
San Diego is a team that showed to be very aggressive on set pieces, and which has been where they have looked their most dangerous this year. Their best chance early on was on this free kick from the left of the 18 yard box, but was easily turned aside by Lubin.
Phoenix finally broke through and took the lead in the 26th minute on this blast from who else but Junior Flemmings, assisted by who else but Jon Bakero. It is the 3rd time in the past two matches that Bakero has assisted on a Flemmings goal.
Phoenix Rising vs San Diego 1st Water Break
Phoenix Rising would continue to look strong throughout the end of the first half, creating several more chances, but ultimately failing to find the back of the net. It was clear that frustration was starting to set in for San Diego late in the half when Collin Martin fouled Flemmings hard, and received the first yellow card of the match. Martin would be subbed off at halftime, but it would not be the last hard foul by a San Diego player.
In the Michael Jordan documentary The Last Dance, the 1980's "Bad Boys" Detroit Piston's players talk about how they didn't take any "soft fouls", and that if they were going to commit a violation, they were going to make sure they got their money's worth. In other words, that the opponent would know that if they brought the ball into the lane, there might be some pain involved. It appears the San Diego follows this philosophy. These are by no means dirty plays, just getting your money's worth out of a booking.
Phoenix Rising vs San Diego Halftime Report
In the 56th minute Emrah Klimenta took a yellow card for another hard foul on Flemmings. However, just 3 minutes later Phoenix right back Darnell King's blast from just outside the 18-yard-box would end up in the back of the net for an insurance goal.
Down by 2 goals, Donovan changed formations, subbing out centerback Sal Zizzo for former Phoenix Rising forward Ben Spencer in the 61st minute. The substitution and change in formation paid dividends for San Diego in that for the final 30 minutes of the match, they were able to apply much more pressure than they had for the first 60. It however ended up being too little too late for them, as Lubin as dominant down the stretch in earning the clean sheet.
Phoenix Rising vs San Diego 2nd Water Break
It will be interesting to see if San Diego, a team that has managed just 6 goals in their first 8 matches, goes with a formation that includes both Spencer and Francis Atuahene up front to create more offense going forward. The Loyal have the same problem that many expansion teams have in that they have good players, just not quite enough good players to compete with the top teams in the Western Conference. That being said, Donovan seems to have quickly put a quality product on the pitch, and were they not in an extremely tough Group B, I would call them a solid playoff contender.