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Phoenix Rising vs Tulsa Roughnecks: USL Championship Match Preview

Phoenix Rising vs Tulsa Roughnecks

Tulsa Roughnecks FC will travel to Casino Arizona Field to play the Phoenix Rising FC this Friday, June 7, 2019. It is the first USL Championship match-up of the year between the two Western Conference foes. Phoenix comes into the game with 20 points, currently good enough for 3rd position in the conference, while Tulsa sits all the way down in 12th, but have just 3 fewer points with 17. It should be noted that Phoenix does have a game in hand having played 12 times this year, and Tulsa 13. It should also be noted that Phoenix is very well rested, having last played on May 25, 2019 at Real Monarchs. Tulsa has played twice, in that period. It will be interesting to see if the long lay off hurts or helps a team that was in their best form of the season before the break in action.

Coming into this season, Phoenix was talking about a championship run after falling at the final hurdle and finishing as runners-up in 2018. Tulsa came into the year just hoping to have any kind of improvement over last year which saw them finish 17th, dead last in the Western Conference with a miserable -41 goal difference. Thus far both teams look to be on the right track. After a slow start be their expectations, Phoenix Rising have been in top form recently winning their last 3. Their +12 goal difference is tied for best in the west as well, and look to be a contender to make another deep run into the playoffs. For Tulsa, while 12th place may not sound too promising, as mentioned above, they are just 3 points behind third in a very tightly packed conference. Their +3 goal differential through 13 games speaks to them contending for the playoffs all season long.

Phoenix Rising Logo

By Source (WP:NFCC#4), Fair use, Wikipedia

Phoenix Rising vs Tulsa Roughnecks Vital Information

This, and all USL Championship and USL League One matches can be viewed on ESPN Plus in the United States. The match is at 10:30 PM EST on Friday, June 8, 2019.

Referee assignments have referee Elijio Arreguin at the center of the pitch, with Bennett Savage and Adam Sanchez as the assistants. Anthony Bersano will be the 4th official.

This will be the 9th meeting all time between the Tulsa Roughnecks and Phoenix Rising. In the previous 8 meetings, Tulsa has won 4 times, Phoenix has won 3, and there has been 1 draw. It was a Phoenix victory in the most recent of those, 3-0, at Phoenix, back on June 16, 2018. In fact, Phoenix Rising have won each of the last 3 matches between the two clubs going back to 2017. Prior to that, the series had been dominated by Tulsa, who won 4 times of the first 5 matches between the two clubs with the other of those a draw.

Tulsa Roughnecks logo

By Source (WP:NFCC#4), Fair use, Wikipedia

Five Points That Shouldn’t be Overlooked

Not surprisingly, Phoenix's frequent $1 Beer Night promotions (this will be the second of 6 this year) are wildly popular with the fans. However, they may be equally popular with the players and coaches as the team is an undefeated (10-0-0) on these night's historically. This includes both of their home playoff wins last season. Until proven different, we will treat this as a trend and not a coincidence.

Tulsa has done a major rebuilt after last season's disaster. Without a doubt, one of the biggest reasons for their improvement so far has been the play of 20-year-old Brazilian phenom Luca Lobo. This kid was playing for Botafogo Rio de Janeiro U20. In just 12 matches, his first 12 as a professional, he leads the club with 7 goal so far. Did I mention that he play Right-Back?

While Tulsa has improved dramatically since last season, it should be noted that the Phoenix Rising blew out the Roughnecks in both match-ups last year. Phoenix outscored Tulsa by an 8-1 margin over the two matches last season.

The Tulsa Roughnecks are owned by a minor league baseball team, the Double A Tulsa Drillers. They play their home games at ONEOK Field, a stadium that they share with the Drillers. This creates less than ideal playing conditions for the Roughnecks at home, as sod has to be laid over the baselines before each game. In one of the corners it is even possible to start your run up to a corner kick actually standing on home plate. In the United States it is not all the unusual to see multi-purpose baseball/soccer stadiums, but this is one of the more intrusive situations you will see at this level.

While all things seem to be pointing in Phoenix's direction for the most part, they were dealt a bit of a blow with the announcement that attacking midfielder Junior Flemmings has been called to the Jamaican National Team for the CONCACAF Gold Cup. With Phoenix Rising already missing defensive midfielder Kevon Lambert (also a Jamaican National), they will have quite the void in the center of the pitch to overcome. Phoenix will likely be looking to reserve winger Joey Calistri to step up and provide some scoring punch to make up for Flemmings (6 goals and 5 assists through 12 games) being out of the line-up. The club will likely be looking to veteran James Musa to step in for Lambert at the back half of the midfield.

Phoenix Rising vs Tulsa Roughnecks Prediction

Any time you see a 3rd place team at home against a 12th place team it is going to look like a mismatch on paper. Tulsa, however is no ordinary 12th place team. Not only do they have a positive goal difference, as mentioned above, but they are a team that has won as many games as they have lost. In fact, a win on Friday could vault them all the way up to 6th or 7th, just to give an idea of how close the conference race is. That being said, this does not look to be a good match-up for Tulsa even before adding in the dollar beer night factor. While these two clubs may have similar stats offensively, the way that they get there couldn't be more different.

Phoenix is a team that plays from the back under the tutelage of their second year manager Rick Schantz. In fact, Schantz is so committed to this style of play that he has mentioned in interviews as discouraging his goalkeepers from kicking the ball down the field. While it was a work in progress at the beginning of the season, over the past month Phoenix has really started to click, especially at the midfield level. Tulsa on the other hand seems to be a team that favors kicking the ball down the field and then after their attackers come in behind the ball. This strategy may be more our of necessity than design given the conditions of the pitch that the Rougnecks play on at home, but that won't be a factor on the pristine turf of Casino Arizona Field.

While both teams have had success with scoring this season, the difference has come on defense as Tulsa has allowed 21 goals on the year, compared with just 14 by Phoenix. There are a few concerns for the Phoenix Rising, rustiness after the two weeks off certainly being one of them, but the absence of Lambert and Flemmings will be the biggest. Regardless, even without their Jamaican stars, I believe that Phoenix just has too much firepower for Tulsa to shut down. Combine that with the fact that nobody has been able to beat Phoenix Rising on their dollar beer night's, and I just don't see that trend ending this Friday. Phoenix have been notoriously slow starters this year, and it would not surprise me to see that again, especially given the time off. However, this club has shown the ability to finish much stronger than it starts. I expect that by the time we reach the final 30 minutes of the match that Phoenix will be starting to exert their dominance, and that this one will be put to by the 80th minute.

Prediction: Phoenix Rising  4 Tulsa Roughnecks 1

About Phil Kennedy

Member of @acrosspitch football/soccer podcast, Accrington Stanley, Phoenix Rising, Arsenal, #OnStanleyOn #UpRising #WeAreTheArsenal @OASSCNA #dontworrybeaccy

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