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Phoenix Rising mixes new, returning players to craft potent offense

Phoenix Rising coach Patrice Carteron directs his team during a post-practice drill. Carteron has helped put together a potent offense. (Josh Martinez/Cronkite News)

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Last season, Phoenix Rising FC gave its fans a taste of what a winning soccer franchise feels like, but coach Patrice Carteron wants to give more on the field.

The club finished 17–8–7 last year, putting it tied for fifth in the United Soccer League. Through 13 matches, Rising FC ranks second in the USL standings and features one of the league’s most potent attacking front.  

Phoenix ranks first in the USL in goals (26) and shots (212), as of Friday.

Furthermore, Rising FC has added several players, many of whom already have contributed to the team’s offensive prowess.

“This season, I wanted us to be more spectacular with more young players,” he said. “That’s why I decided to bring in, for example, Collin Fernandez and Solomon Asante.”

Both Fernandez and Asante, along with fellow newcomer Billy Forbes, have made their presence known on the team’s goal assist total, helping put it on pace to surpass its 2017 assist total.

Asante leads the team with four assists and Fernandez follows with three and Forbes with two. Last year the team assisted on 33 goals total compared to this year’s 20 through 13 games.

Asante said he’s loved his first year with the Rising and has developed a good relationship with the forwards on the team.

“I like to get the ball at my feet so I can create a lot of chances for my forwards, like Chris (Cortez),” Asante said. “I always know where he is, which makes it easier for me to give him a ball.”

Cortez, who is in his second season with the team, has also emerged for Rising. He’s shifted into more of a scorer instead of assisting on goals, surpassing his five goals from a year ago with six so far. He also led the team with five assists but has only assisted on one goal this year.

He credits the team’s change in style of play and recent additions as what has put him more in position to score.

A year ago, Rising played more of a counter-attack style where, Cortez said, he was more of an outlet. This would put Cortez racing up the sidelines and looking for chances to set up goals for the inside forwards.

This year, Cortez said the style is more possession-based, which allows for the ball to go wide, putting him in better scoring position.

While Cortez cited the style change, Carteron pointed to the forward’s recovery from a mid-season knee injury that required surgery.

“Last year, Chris was already the best striker in terms of offensive develops,” Carteron said. “That’s why I wanted to keep Chris because I knew working and being well-prepared physically could give us all of his fantastic potential.”

Cortez also returns with other forwards such as Didier Drogba, Jason Johnson and Alessandra Riggi, plus Asante has emerged as a top goal scorer. This entire group has combined for 21 of the team’s 26 total goals.

Carteron said having Cortez in this mix as a potential goal scorer has made the attacking front work so well.

Familiarity helps with the fluidity of the forwards, Cortez said. This comes since many have played together since last season.

“For us four to return and be able to come back and play again, we all know each other’s tendencies so we can hit the ground running,” Cortez said.

But he doesn’t forget about those newcomers either as he said players like Asante, Fernandez and Forbes have fit in well to the offensive production, setting up plays for him.

More than half the season remains so the team still has a way to go before it can reach its goal of improving on last year’s playoff team. Carteron said a big part of reaching that goal resides in a solid offense.

“The more goals we score, the more chances we have to become champions this season,” Carteron said. “That is my biggest priority of the season.”

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