Phoenix Rising FC travel to Cheney Stadium in Tacoma, Washington to play Tacoma Defiance on Tuesday, August 27, 2019. It is the second and final USL Championship regular season match-up of the year between these clubs. Phoenix comes into the match on a 15-game-winning-streak. They have not lost or drawn since May 4, 2019, and are coming off a 2-1 victory over Sacramento Republic FC last Friday. They currently 9 points clear of 2nd place Fresno FC atop the table, and are closing in on a mathematical playoff birth with 10 matches still to play in the season. Their 64 goals are not only best in the league this season, but also eclipses their team record of 63 from last season. Tacoma is sitting at the completely opposite end of the table in 17th, and have won just 4 matches all season. To give an idea of how much of a mismatch this is on paper, Tacoma's League worst -35 goal differential is a net 76 worse than Phoenix's league leading total of +41. Although they dropped their most recent match to El Paso Locomotive FC 2-0 on Saturday, they have shown a slight improvement in form lately, having won 2 of their past 4 matches.
Both teams will be on short rest on Tuesday night with Phoenix having played last on Friday, and Tacoma on Saturday. It will be interesting to see what changes that Phoenix manager Rick Schantz makes to his starting line-up, with this being Phoenix's first short rest game since mid-June. I would not be surprised to see possibly Ben Spencer get a look up front in favor of Adam Jahn. Midfielder, and former Liverpool Academy product Corey Whelan made his U.S. debut over the weekend for FC Tucson, and it will be interested to see if he sees his first USL Championship game time tonight. For Tacoma, the questions will come down to how much help their parent club, Seattle Sounders FC send down to them. Their leading scorer this season has been Justin Dhillon, who has 7 goals in 16 appearances for Tacoma, but has spent most of the summer up the road in Seattle. However, his most recent playing time came with Tacoma on August 17, 2019, and with the Sounders off until Sunday, I expect that Dhillon will play against Phoenix.
Tacoma Defiance vs Phoenix Rising Vital Information
Referee assignments are to be determined. On the discipline report, Phoenix will be without Doueugui Mala, who was sent off in the 90th minute against Sacramento. Tacoma's Nick Hinds is on the caution list, as is Phoenix's James Musa. These players are just one card away from his fifth on the season, which would result in a one-game-suspension.
This will be the 10th meeting all time between Phoenix Rising and Tacoma Defiance (formerly Seattle Sounders 2). In the previous 9 meetings, Phoenix has won 7 times, Tacoma has won 2 times, and there has been 0 draws. It was a 4-0 win at Phoenix when the two last met on April 20, 2019. Phoenix has beaten Tacoma the last 5 times the clubs have matches up, with Tacoma's last victory in the series coming all the way back on July 16, 2016.
Five Points That Shouldn’t be Overlooked
As I have written each week recently, Phoenix seems to have an unsung hero step up every week. This past Saturday's match couldn't have started off any worse for Joe Farrell, as his uncharacteristic error very early in the match resulted in Phoenix having to play from behind after a 2nd minute goal by Cameron Iwasa. However, at the other end of the first half Farrell was about to redeem himself with a 44th minute goal, off of a Solomon Asante assist. The goal, which was just the defenders 2nd of the season ended up being the last one scored on the nigh, and the game winner. Speaking of Asante, the assist was his 12th of the year, and combined with his 18 goals, brings his goal involvement to an astonishing 30 on the season.
When you start looking up and down the Tacoma Defiance roster, it is not hard to see why they have struggled, especially offensively. Beyond Dhillon, stalwart midfielder Shandon Hopeau is the only other player to have scored more than twice for them this season, and he has 3. The team as a whole has scored just 20 goals all season, or just 2 more than Asante has scored by himself. A bright side this season for Tacoma has been the play of midfielder Josh Atencio. He is by no means an offensive threat, but has impressive distribution, and defensive stats, and leads the club in both passes and tackles won. Atencio, is just 17-years-old, and already may be their most consistent contributor, which says a lot about both his future and the lack of veteran talent on this roster.
As bad as things have been offensively for Tacoma, their defense hasn't been any better. Their 55 goals allowed are the worst in the Western conference, and is well more than double Phoenix's total of 23 allowed. They have just 2 clean sheets all season, and one of those came all the way back on opening night. They have had somewhat of a revolving door at goalkeeper, with 5 different keepers getting at least one start for them so far this season. Trey Muse has gotten a majority of the starts, but has been largely ineffective, having stopped just under 59% of shots that have come his way this season. Bryan Meredith, spends most of his time on the Sounders bench, but has made 5 starts with Tacoma this season, and been more effective that Muse, saving 66% of his opportunities. As mentioned above, the Sounders don't play again until Sunday, and Meredith hasn't gotten any work since August 9, 2019, so I fully expect him to get the start tonight against Phoenix.
Speaking of defense, and this is really picking nits here, but Phoenix has shown a slight drop off over the past few weeks. It could easily be said that last week would have been a clean sheet if not for a fluke error, and that would be true. It does not however change the fact that Phoenix has 6 goals allowed and no clean sheets in their past 4 games. They still have a conference best 23 goals allowed, but this is at least a slight concern. As much of a concern that a team on a 15-game-winning streak and 9 points clear in 1st, and massive advantage in goal difference can have. Tacoma is not just a bad team, they are the worst team in the Western Conference. I don't care so much how many goals Phoenix scores tonight, as long as it's at least 1, but I would really like to see them leave Washington with a clean sheet.
While I generally not a fan of 'MLS Reserve Teams" in the USL Championship, there are clubs like Red Bulls II and Portland Timbers 2 that field a competitive squad and add to the competition. Tacoma Defiance are not one of them. They have finished 12th or worse each of the past 4 seasons, and after a rebrand during the offseason, are worse than ever this season. I know we don't have promotion and relegation in USL yet, but there should be an exception made for Tacoma. This is clearly a club that belongs in USL League One.
Tacoma Defiance vs Phoenix Rising Prediction
On paper this has the makings of a classic trap game, especially coming on a Tuesday night. That being said, Phoenix is on another level then the good teams in the USL, and Tacoma is on another level from the bad teams in the USL. Unless Christian Roldan and Raul Ruidiaz are going to be making a cameo tonight, I just don't see this one going Tacoma's way. The most interesting thing to see will be whether or not Schantz rolls out a lineup with big changes from last Friday, but either way I think Phoenix will prevail. Once again, I am less worried about goals scored, but a clean sheet is the main thing I want to see from Phoenix tonight.
Prediction: Phoenix Rising - 3 Tacoma Defiance - 0