San Diego Loyal SC travel to Casino Arizona Field in Tempe, AZ to play Phoenix Rising FC on Saturday, September 19, 2020. It is the second of three matches between these clubs in USL Championship Group B, and second and final meeting at Arizona. The first match between the clubs was won 2-0 by Phoenix on August 15, 2020. The final regular season meeting between the clubs will take place at San Diego's Torero Field on September 30th. It is a match with big postseason implications, as Phoenix, who currently sits atop the group with 26 points can mathematically guarantee a playoff berth with 3 points tonight. San Diego, on the other hand finds themselves in a virtual "must win" position, especially after Orange County defeated Las Vegas Lights Friday night, which dropped them down to 4th in the table. San Diego has 19 points, and can actually vault ahead of both Orange County and Los Angeles Galaxy II, who both have 21 points. However, after Saturday's match, San Diego will have played 14 of their 16 matches, which means that OCSC will have a game in hand, and Los Dos will have 2 games in hand.
Phoenix comes in having won back to back matches over Las Vegas, including a 5-1 thrashing at home last Friday. San Diego also comes in having won their last 2 matches, most recently beating OC 2-0 last Saturday, and 3-0 over Los Dos the previous Wednesday. In all, they are on a 4-game-unbeaten-run, and have conceded just 1 goal over that stretch. Although they have scored 5 goals in their past 2 matches, SD is clearly a defensively oriented team who has scored only 13 goals, but been incredibly stingy in conceding just 12. They are a team without a clear talisman as there are 3 players (Francis Atuahene, Miguel Berry, Alejandro Guido) who are tied for the team lead in goals, but they have just 2 each. By comparison Phoenix is lead in scoring by Junior Flemmings's 12 goals, which is just 1 less than San Diego's team total. Although the story in Phoenix is always going to be offense, and with 36 goals it is not without merit. However, with 13 goals conceded (just 1 more than San Diego), it shows that Phoenix's defense has been a bit more formidable than reported this year.
Phoenix Rising vs San Diego Loyal Vital Information
This is a televised match, and and can be viewed on ESPN Plus in the United States and locally in Arizona on CW61. The match is at 7:30 PM Arizona time on Friday, September 19, 2020.
Referee assignments have referee Farhad Dadkho at center pitch, with Mark Novosel and Melissa Beck as the assistants, and Isaiah Vlad will be the 4th official. Neither team has any players on the league discipline report.
This will be the 2nd meeting all-time between Phoenix and San Diego, with Phoenix winning the first as noted above.
Limited fans will be allowed a Casino Arizona Field for the 2nd consecutive week.
Rick Schantz On Damion Lowe
The Lead Story
The top story for the Phoenix Rising this week has been the signing of Jamaican defender Damion Lowe to solidify the back line. In recent weeks, Phoenix has moved Corey Whelan from center back to right back, and brought in Joey Farrell off the bench to become the other starting central defender next to A.J. Cochran. This combination has gotten great results, as Phoenix allowed just 1 goal in the past 2 matches against Las Vegas since changing to this setup. This allows PRFC to get all of their biggest and most physical defenders all onto the pitch at the same time.
The problem is that it has left Phoenix without a natural center back to come off the bench in an injury situation. That situation seems to have been solved this week with the signing of Lowe, who is not only an experience player at this level, but according to Schantz may just be the strongest and most physical guy on the team now. Lowe had been without a team before first coming to train with, and then officially signing with PRFC this week, so according to Schantz he will need some time to get match fit, but will need to only make 2 appearances during the regular season to qualify for the postseason roster.
Rick Schantz On The Back Line
Phoenix Rising Player Snapshots
As you can see I have altered my format slightly, although nothing is really changing about the articles themselves, I have evolved the headings to better reflect what each section is about. As I mentioned above, the defense often doesn't get enough credit here in Phoenix, so this week, I am going to dedicated this entire section to recognizing the guys who keep the ball out of the net for us. However, before I do that I just want to give a quick shout out to our main man Solomon Asante, and wish him a quick and speedy recovery from the issue that kept him off the pitch last Friday. As some as you may have seen (and let's just say last Friday was a bit of a hectic day for me), I arrived at Casino Arizona Field just in time to give a quick glance at the lineup sheet and launch into my live pregame report. Asante has been such a staple in the lineup that in my haste I didn't even notice he wasn't on the sheet because I had just assumed he would be on it. There haven't been any more reports on the injury, so I am assuming it is nothing serious, and we may even see him back out on the pitch against San Diego.
Moving on to the defenders, the only starter I haven't mentioned so far is Darnell King, who came in as the starting right back, but seems to have found a home on the left side. King scored his first goal of the season in the last match against San Diego, and will be looking to do so again. One of the things that some people had gotten on King about early in the season was that they thought he was playing forward a bit too much. However, over the last few weeks it has been noticeable in that he has become much better at picking his spots, and he seems much more comfortable in coach Schantz's system at this point in the season. It is showing in the numbers too as his +23 plus/minus rating is tied for 3rd best on the team, and he is 2nd in minutes played. His impressive +1.94 per 90 minutes means that Phoenix is averaging is scoring nearly 2 goals per game more than their opponents while he is on the pitch. His 18 crosses are most of any back line player, and 3rd on the team behind only Asante and Jon Bakero.
I also wanted to give a huge shout out to the club for allowing me to add to my memorabilia collection AND to donate to a good cause at the same time in the recent Auction for Athlete Ally, and I was able to score this sweet autographed Darnell King training top. Thanks for being an awesome club that supports the community!
From the @PHXRisingFC charity pride auction. Super excited for this signed shirt from @21ddking worn before the match where he scored his first PRFC goal! Can't wait to hang this one up! I know today's guest on @acrosspitch @RobRuss92409479 will appreciate this. #RisingTogether pic.twitter.com/qWiuqY3fNM— Phil (@AccyRising) September 14, 2020
Listen To Our Podcast With Phoenix Rising's Corey Whelan
This week Phoenix Rising's awesome media director Jason Minnick was able to arrange a chat for me with Whelan, and we discussed everything from his time with Liverpool academy, to what it's like going from cold rainy England, to the 115 degree desert heat. Corey seems to have adapted well, and has been Phoenix's iron man so far this year, leading the team with 1079 minutes played, and a team leading +25 rating. Even more impressively, in spite of playing that many minutes, mostly as a central defender, he has shown incredible discipline in getting just 1 yellow card all season. I apologize to @Sec103J on Twitter, as I forgot to ask your question during the interview. It was a fantastic chat with Corey who is an absolute Top Bloke, and he gives very candid answers. Like just about every Liverpudlian we have had on the show, Corey says that he has had a football with him nearly everywhere that he's gone ever since he was a kid. Plus, you can also find out why he is unlikely to ever be sharing a pizza with King after the match.
If you love Corey as much as I do and want to get a double dose, our friend Jake Anderson talked to him this week as well. I think this is the second time that this has happened, so I have made note when I see Jake at the game tonight to check with him on who he is planning to interview this week. There is also a video below where coach Rick Schantz talks about what he thinks is Whelan's best position, a question that both myself and Jake also posed to Corey this week.
Rick Schantz On Corey Whelan's Best Position
First file this under not only not a stupid question by my friend Edward Cunningham, of PRFCFanShow but one I am glad he asked because it ties into something I have been wanting to write about anyway. It has to do with two different styles of goalkeeping. In the 1990's the two sports arguments I had the most times were (NFL running backs) Emmitt Smith vs Barry Sanders (Smith of course), and Patrick Roy (pronounced Wau) vs Dominik Hasek (pronounced Ha-Sheck) (NHL goaltenders). This second one is a little bit less clear because it comes down to two different styles. The argument basically boiled down to that Hasek fans would argue that Hasek was better because he made more saves, and Roy fans would argue that he was better because he allowed less goals per game. Essentially Hasek fans would say that because Hasek would sometime face 10-20 more shots per game than Roy, that allowing marginally more goals per game against more shots was to be expected, and that Roy must have a far superior defense.
As a Roy guy I would always counter with that while it was unquestionable that most seasons Roy did have a better team around him, that the difference in save numbers had more to do with style of play than the quality of the defenders in front of them.
Now both players won Stanley Cups, so clearly both players had a way of doing things that worked for them, and that is the point that I am getting to here. Essentially, in football I have observed that there are two styles of goalkeeping. One type of goalkeeper is always looking to put himself into the best position to make the save. We will call this a Hasek since I always felt that Hasek saw more shots because he gave up more rebounds. Why? Because as he has making a save he was already getting himself into position to make the next one. For Roy, if something came into his area, he was immediately going down and covering it up, or catching shots with his glove if he could so that there wouldn't be a rebound. In other words, his goal was to never have to make the save at all. With Phoenix Rising, I think we have seen a perfect example of both styles (I know both of you guys are active on Twitter so please call me out if I am wrong, as I am just an amateur observer breaking down stats and watching matches). In looking at stats and footage I would say that Carl Woszczynski was more of a Hasek, while Zac Lubin is more of a Roy. In other words, Woz was the guy always working on being in the best position to make the stop, while Lubin is catching the ball or punching it away any time that he can, especially on set pieces. Breaking down stats from 2018, the season that both played the most games with relatively the same defense in front of them, Woz faced 3.76 shots per game in his 25 starts, vs 2.88 shots per game in Lubin's 9 starts. None of this is meant to say that one way or the other is better, but instead to answer Edward's question that goals per game is the better measure because keeping the ball out of the net is the objective regardless of how many saves you made along the way. Therefore, as hard as it may be to stomach, so far this year San Diego's Jon Kempin has been the best keeper in the league. Not only is his Goal Allowed Average impressive, but his 86.7% save percentage would nearly be good enough for Roy and Hasek's sport. Which leads into my next section.
Looking At The Opposition: San Diego Loyal
As alluded to above, San Diego's defense is the most impressive part of their operation. I was particular impressive with the play of center back Grant Stoneman in the last match, and it easily could have been more than a 2 goal defeat if not for his heroics. He has 6 yellow cards on the season, including 1 in the early Phoenix match. Late in the first match San Diego got extremely physical with Flemmings with multiple yellows taken against him, but he has shown as mentioned in the quote by coach Schantz at the top of this article, Flemmings is a player that thrives on physicality, so this is a plan this is likely to backfire if San Diego goes that way again. Of the new acquisitions mentioned above, the most concerning is Miguel Berry, who has 2 goals and 1 assist in just for matches since coming to the club, and could provide that true danger man they have been lacking. Both of his goals came in the same game, so it remains to be seen if he is an every game threat, but the fact that his arrival has coincided with San Diego's 4-game-unbeaten-run, it suggests that he is having impact beyond just what you see on the score sheet. Forward Rubio Rubin and defender Tarek Morad are the other 2 new players. Rubin has started just 2 games, but already scored a goal. meanwhile, Morad has started the last 3 matches at center back, and appears to be Stoneman's new partner in crime in San Diego's central defense. I expect that all 3 of these players will be in the starting line-up against Phoenix.
Also worth noting is that both defender Elijah Martin and midfielder Alejandro Guido were named to the USL Championship Team of The Week for Week 12, so I expect that both will be in the starting line-up, and causing trouble against Phoenix. In their current form San Diego could provide Phoenix's toughest test at home so far this season.
Phoenix Rising vs San Diego Loyal 9/19/20 Gambling Analysis
There are some weeks like last where I am almost sure I know what line is going to look like before I look at it. Others, like this week I am interested to see if it tells me anything. What I was looking for was to see if there was anything that indicated the pros thought that San Diego have improved their side enough to move the needle in terms of the line. The answer from the fine folks at DraftKings.com is a resounding no. What you are looking at here is San Diego getting marginally more respect than Vegas did last week, but still more than a 5 to 1 long shot on the bet to win. If you look at the standings and peripheral stats, that that would be about where San Diego would have rated even before the new players came in. It's a smaller payout, and San Diego is facing a must win, where Phoenix really isn't, which always has to be accounted for. That being said, I wouldn't bet 10 farms on a PRFC win this week, but I would feel confident betting at least 1 farm on it.
Phoenix Rising vs San Diego Loyal Prediction
I have waited all the way until hear to say the one name everyone has been waiting for, and Landon Donovan has done and absolutely fabulous job of building a squad that in a normal year would almost certainly be playoff bound. The new additions bring them closer to the level of team's like Orange County and Reno that give PRFC legitimate problems, but to me San Diego is still a year away from that. Shutting out Los Dos and OCSC in consecutive matches has been impressive, but beating Phoenix Rising at home has been a whole different animal. To top it all off, Phoenix is finally starting to find rhythm, and Schantz seems to be finding the lineup combinations that work best for him. Phoenix proved last week that with or without Asante they are a force to be reckoned with both on paper and on grass. Tonight, I think they take care of San Diego and clinch a playoff berth.