Phoenix Rising FC travel to H-E-B Park to play Rio Grande Valley FC this Saturday, July 13, 2019. It is the second and final USL Championship match-up of the year between these clubs, who are currently at opposite ends of the spectrum in the Western Conference. Phoenix comes into the game with 35 points, currently top of the table by 3 points over Reno 1868 FC. Rio Grande Valley comes into the match 15th in the table, which is just 4 spots up from the bottom. They are by no means eliminated from playoff contention, and there does seem to be a gap between them on the bottom three teams. That being said, their -4 goal differential and 33 goals allowed this season do not exactly have them looking like they will make a surprise late run. Their struggles on defense could prove especially troublesome against a Phoenix team that has scored a league high 45 goals.
This is likely to be the final time that these two meet this season, and that has been the standard for these two clubs who have never met outside of regular season play. It has been a bit of an odd series to say the least, as Phoenix has never lost to the Toros, but they have also never beaten them at Rio Grande Valley. When the two met at Phoenix back in early May, it was the first of what it now a currently 8-games-and-counting winning run for Phoenix. While Rio Grande Valley certainly looks overmatched by Phoenix on paper, it cannot be overlooked that they will need to win in a building that they have never one in before to extend their team record winning streak to 9 games.
Rio Grande Valley vs Phoenix Rising Vital Information
Referee assignments have referee Elton Garcia at center pitch, with Shane Kennard and Manuel Vargas as the assistants, and Arturo Ibarra will be the 4th official.
This will be the 7th meeting all time between Phoenix Rising and Rio Grande Valley. In the previous 6 meetings, Phoenix has won 3 times, Rio Grande Valley has 0 wins, and there have been 3 draws. It was a Phoenix victory in the most recent of those, 3-1, at Phoenix, on May 10, 2019. On an interesting side note, Phoenix has won all 3 games that they have played at home in this series, while all 3 games that have been played at Rio Grande Valley have been draws.
Five Points That Shouldn’t be Overlooked
We are used to talking week after week about teams being more positions behind than points in the standings in the USL Championship Western Conference. This is almost one of those situations again, except in this case, it is 14 positions and 15 points back in the standings from that the Toros are from Phoenix. To top it all off, Phoenix has a game in hand after last week's bye. (It is worth noting that it will be Phoenix's last full week of rest during the regular season). As if things weren't bleak enough for RGV given those numbers, Junior Flemmings and Kevon Lambert have returned from CONCACAF Gold Cup duties, and Phoenix will them back into the mix for this match.
What else can we say about Phoenix captain Solomon Asante other than that he had a month for the ages June. The result of is was his winning the well deserve honor of USL Championship Player of the Month. Asante scored 7 goals and added 4 assists over 5 games during the month, all of which were won by Phoenix. Asante has continued to elevate his game each week as the season has gone on, and if he continues on this pace could be looking at an MVP season.
The season leader in goal scoring for Rio Grande Valley is Michael Salazar, who had 8 goals through 12 games. He has however since been called up the MLS side Houston Dynamo, and has been with them since June 22, 2019. Given that he subbed on for Houston against Los Angeles Football Club on Friday, he will certainly not be with RGV on Saturday. That leaves them with Carlos Small as their top scoring option, the Panamanian has done well with 7 goals in 14 games, but behind him, there is no one on the roster with more than 3 goals. In spite of this, 29 goals scored as a team is good enough to put them in the top half of the league.
While the departure of Salazar has certainly hurt them offensively, RGV's true achilles heel this season has been stopping the other team from scoring. To find a reason for this, you need look no further than the fact that the team has started 4 goalkeepers in just 18 games. Such inconsistency as this position lends to a lack of cohesiveness that will also effect the guys playing on the back line. The time has mostly been split between Belgian Nicolas Corti (64% save percentage in 7 appearances), and Michael Nelson (58% save percentage in 6 appearances). Tyler Deric who has started 4 games for RGV has managed just a 50% save percentage in his appearances. Nelson did get his first clean sheet of the season last week against Tacoma Defiance, but was listed as an unused sub for Houston Dynamo on Friday night. This makes it seem likely that we will see Corti get the call against Phoenix. Corti was lit up for 4 goals by Reno 1868 in last appearance July 3, 2019.
Phoenix has scored 45 goals and allowed 17 this season, a difference of +28. Phoenix's top trio of Asante, Adam Jahn, and Flemmings have combined to score 29 goals this season. Rio Grande Valley has scored 29 goals this season.
Rio Grande Valley vs Phoenix Rising Prediction
As things stand, RGV's two biggest things going for them is that Phoenix has never beaten them in this building. On the flip side, they have never beaten Phoenix in any building. Oh yeah, and there might be a hurricane coming in, so there is that. However, news reports have it that Barry has weakened to a tropical storm, and the only Hurricane coming to Edinburg Saturday is going to be named Phoenix Rising. (Speaking of, can we please get a hurricane named Harry Kane, can someone please make this happen?)
All things considered, a weather delay relay seems to be Rio Grande Valley's only chance at avoiding their first defeat against Phoenix in this match. Or perhaps there is just enough of a deluge to cause the two clubs to slosh their way to a nil, nil draw. Otherwise, a well rested and reloaded Phoenix Rising team should have this one put away by halftime. There is always the argument of rust, but Phoenix shrugged off that argument in throttling the tin pot Tulsa Roughnecks FC 5-0 after their most recent week off. Sounds like a good score for this one to end in as well.
Prediction: Phoenix Rising - 5 Rio Grande Valley - 0