Phoenix Rising FC travel to Torero Stadium in San Diego, California to play San Diego Loyal SC on Wednesday, September 30, 2020. It is the third of three matches between these clubs in USL Championship Group B, and the only meeting in California. The first match between the clubs was won 2-0 by Phoenix on August 15, 2020, but the second was won 3-2 by San Diego on September 19, mean this will be the rubber match in the season series. It will also be the final game of the regular season for San Diego, who are clinging to their playoff lives, and need to not only win this match, but also get help to advance to the post season. They currently sit 3rd in the table with 23 points, but both Los Angeles Galaxy II (currently 2nd with 23 points) and Orange County (currently 4th with 21 points) own a game in hand over San Diego, and either will finish with more point by winning their final 2 matches. San Diego comes into the match on a 6 match unbeaten run, including a 1-1 draw last Wednesday against Los Dos. Phoenix clinched a playoff birth last Saturday with their 1-0 win over Orange County. (Note: A match between Los Dos and OCSC will be happening simultaneously with San Diego vs Phoenix match.).
.@PHXRisingFC's Rick Schantz on being in the group of death: "By the time we get into the playoffs, we will have already had that type of intensity from our opponents. I think it’s been a great wakeup call for us." #RisingTogether— Jake Anderson (@jwa1994) September 29, 2020
My story on @AZSports👇🏼https://t.co/wTqCfCaVcA
As mentioned in last week's article, San Diego had forfeited the match against Los Dos due to the use of a racial slur by Los Angeles's Oman Ontiveros, who has since been released from by Los Dos. However, as far as I can tell it seems like the game will be counted in the standings, and I can't find any official news from the league other that that Ontiveros had been suspended for 6 games before his release. With that match having been played last Wednesday, it does mean that San Diego will be on a full week's rest, while Phoenix will be on just 3 days rest. Furthermore, while San Diego is finished with the regular season after this, Phoenix will be on a short turn around again, as the play Los Dos at home this Saturday. While Phoenix has already clinched a playoff birth, they do need at least 1 point out of these next 2 matches to guarantee a first place finish in their group.
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 7:00 PM Arizona time on Wednesday, September 30, 2020.
This will be the 3rd meeting all-time between Phoenix and San Diego, with Phoenix winning 1 and San Diego winning 1 as noted above.
The Lead Story
The biggest story of the week for PRFC is the play of newcomer Damion Lowe, who made his first start for Phoenix last Saturday, and all he did was win Man of the Match. Phoenix was able to keep their fourth clean sheet of the season against OCSC, and the impact that Lowe had on the entire defense was evident even to the casual observer. Not only does Lowe appear the be the most physical and athletic defender on the squad, but he took on a very vocal leadership role in organizing the defense, which is something that PRFC head coach Rick Schantz both pointed out, and said was something they had been lacking in his weekly press conference. According to Schantz, before Lowe's arrival, goalkeeper Zac Lubin had been the most vocal player in organizing the defense, but Lowe gives them a second strong voice back there. He also mentioned that Lowe's speed and recovery ability allows his center back parter Joey Farrell to take more chances than he would otherwise. It appears that the starting back four going forward will be Lowe and Farrell in the middle, with Corey Whelan at right back and Darnell King at left back. A.J. Cochran had been starting at center back most of this season, and I am guessing with 2 games in 4 days this week that we will see him make at least one start.
Phoenix Rising Player Snapshots
Somewhat overlooked with the smashing debut of Lowe, was the fantastic play of Rufat Dadashov. Not only did Dadashov scored Phoenix's only goal of the match, but his work on the defensive end was outstanding. He was particularly effective in clearing away several of OCSC's set piece attempts in the 2nd half. Throughout the season, coach Schantz has continuously complimented Dadashov's work rate, but unless you really go out of your way to spend some time watching him during a match, it's difficult to understand just how active he is out there.
Over the past few seasons Phoenix has been blessed with some amazing strikers from Chris Cortez to Adam Jahn, and so far this year, Dadashov has filled those big shoes in this role admirably. In fact, when projected over a full season, his offensive output would actually surpass both. In 2018 Cortez had 17 goals in 30 starts, and in 2019 Jahn also had 17 goals in 30 starts (regular season stats only). With 11 goals in just 12 games this season, Dadashov is on a pace that would put him at 27.5 goals if he were to maintain it for 30 games. Furthermore, his 4 assists are just one less than Jahn had last season, and the same number Cortez had in 2018.
Solomon Asante returned to the starting lineup last week for the first time since suffering a hamstring injury in training. With 6 goals and 8 assists, Asante is having another stand-out season for Phoenix, although slightly off of his numbers from last year's MVP season. It is however worth noting that he has now gone 4 matches (3 starts) without recording a goal, or an assist, which is uncharacteristic for him. Surely the injury has played a part, and looking at his creation stats from last week, he still hit 9 crosses and drew 3 fouls against Orange County, so he is definitely still creating. The concern I have is more with his shot number, as he has attempted just 2 shots in each of his last 2 starts, and only 1 of those 4 shots made it on target. Prior to that, he had attempted 3 or more shots in 8 out of 10 games, and had at least 1 shot on target in 9 out of 10 matches. Asante is a proven goal scorer, who has found the back of the net over 40 times since coming to Phoenix, so undoubtably he will find his scoring touch again soon. That being said, with the playoffs fast approaching, I think it is important for Captain Solo to find his way onto the scoresheet over the next 2 matches. Last season Asante ended the season on a similar slow spell, and that carried into the playoffs. As great of a team as Phoenix is, at the end of the day the only way they will be raising the big trophy at the end of the playoffs is to have Asante in top form.
This mid-week Wednesday edition is not going to be quite as extensive as some of my recent articles, but have no fear, I will be back on Saturday with a big bopper of a regular season finale edition. However, as we head into the last road game of the regular season, (and I realize that my goal of traveling to a road game will likely have to wait until next season) I just wanted to reflect on just what an amazing season (one that actually started all the way back in March) that it has been so far. It has been a bit of a roller coaster ride to say the least, and as I have written about extensively, there isn't another fanbase in the USL that is more passionate about their club, especially after a loss. At this moment though, I just want to reflect on the accomplishments so far real quickly. First, as of last week the club secured their 4th consecutive playoff appearance, which alone speaks to the quality of this organization as a whole. PRFC's 39 goals scored are tied with Reno 1868 for best in the conference, and a +23 goal differential is the best in Western Conference. Now, that being said, they are a team that really hasn't "peaked". Anytime a team has lost by one goal in the Championship game, and then had the best record in the league only to get upset in the playoffs over the past 2 seasons, you reach a point where winning a championship is the only. I really feel like it will be crucial for the team to win both of these last 2 matches, and carry some momentum so they can "peak" in the postseason and finally lift that big trophy.
Looking At The Opposition: San Diego Loyal
First and foremost I just want to say that I absolutely love what Landon Donovan is building in San Diego. I don't love it as a Phoenix Rising fan in the fact that we are going to have to play them twice every year, but I love it as a fan of the sport, and look forward to this rivalry for years to come. In the last match I said that we were going to need to look out for their 3 new players, Rubio Rubin, Miguel Berry, and Tarek Morad, and frankly we saw more of all three of them than I ever want to see again. Rubin had the hat trick in the first half, so you already know about him (he also scored their lone goal against Los Dos to give him 5 in 4 matches for those keeping score), but as our friend Kevin of PRFCFanshow pointed out at halftime, it was Berry creating the havoc at the midfield. Meanwhile, Morad is a strong, stay at home type defender who allowed Grant Stoneman the ability to play more forward than I had observed in the first meeting between Phoenix and San Diego. Speaking of Stoneman, I had mentioned that he was a physical player, and to look out for a yellow card. Well, he outdid that and got 2 of them last time out against Phoenix, however, he already served his 1-match-ban and will be back out there again tonight. In my last article I had mentioned the play of goalkeeper Jon Kempin, and that he had statistically been the best in the league this year. Well, the numbers don't lie, and he was impressive against Phoenix, particularly in making a point blank save on Santi Moar. Unfortunately, he left the game late with a groin injury, and Austin Guerrero started in his place against Los Dos. While it will be a positive for Phoenix not to have to face Kempin, here is wishing him a speedy recovery. He is the kind of guy that is just such a talented player you can't even not like him, you just have to tip your cap while he is kicking your ass.
San Deigo acquired goalkeeper Philip Ejimadu on loan from LAFC. It has been reported by Owain Evans that although this happened past the roster freeze, that San Diego could petition the league for an emergency exemption in this situation.
San Diego Loyal vs Phoenix Rising 9/30/20 Gambling Analysis
Most week's I have some kind of idea of how I think a game might go even before I start writing. This week, was more like "Good Lord I have no idea what is going to happen!?!". This line is the fine folks at DraftKings.com's way of saying "Good Lord we have no idea what is going to happen either!?!". I don't know what I was expecting the line to be on this game, but I sure wasn't expecting this. Remember, just a week and a half ago San Diego was paying $62.50 on a $10, and a Phoenix win was paying just over $13. I mean, even The Flying Wallendas think this line took a wild swing. The only obvious thing here is that they are guarding against the draw, which makes perfect sense since Phoenix needs just the 1 point to secure 1st place in the Group. Meanwhile, you have San Diego in an absolut do-or-die, "must win game", against Phoenix in an "it would be nice to win game". Throw in Phoenix's well chronicled struggles on the road, and the fact that San Diego is A LOT better than they were 8 weeks ago, and this line makes a bit more sense. I made the mistake of going against a cardinal rule of gambling, and suggested betting against the must win team. That is a mistake I won't make again. This is really a stay away game, but if you have to bet I'd do it on the draw.
San Diego Loyal vs Phoenix Rising Prediction
I think we are going to see one of the most fun, and stressful all at the same football matches that we have seen in awhile today. San Diego proved last week that they have the firepower to give Phoenix a run for it, and with Kempin likely on the sideline, I think Phoenix will find the back of the net with a bit more ease. Had it not been for a questionable call by the official, this would have been the score line the last time. I think San Diego will lay it all on the line and bring their A-game, but when they punch Phoenix in the mouth, Phoenix will punch back each time. This one is going to come down to the very last minute, but I think Phoenix is able to do enough to get the point they need to secure 1st place, and also to send a pesky San Diego team home to pack for fall vacation.