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Rising begin Texas road trip in El Paso still looking for first win

Solomon Asante. (Photo courtesy of Phoenix Rising FC)

Phoenix Rising FC return to action Saturday in a Week 6 matchup away to El Paso Locomotive FC.

This will be the first of a two-match road trip in the state of Texas against two USL Championship newcomers.

For a team making its debut as a franchise, El Paso has had a pretty impressive start to the season thus far, including a 2-0 victory over Orange County SC for the first win in club history, while also remaining unbeaten in its last three games.

El Paso has also had a player named to the Team of the Week in each of its last two matches. Edson Partida, a loanee from Liga MX side Toluca FC, was given the honor after coming on as a substitute and scoring both goals against Orange County in Week 4.

The other Team of the Week recipient was midfielder Nick Ross following his goal, assist and 95 percent passing accuracy (35-for-37) in his side’s 2-2 draw with Rio Grande Valley FC in Week 3.

The biggest concern Rising manager Rick Schantz will have with the El Paso attack is the playmaking ability of midfielder Sebastian Contreras. His dribbling and passing skills are the reason he leads the team with 12 key passes and two assists. Schantz will look to utilize his defensive midfielders to close down on Contreras, limiting his touches, space and time on the ball.

El Paso is a possession-based team that loves to take shots and whip in crosses. Locomotive FC averages 59.3 percent possession per game (league best) and only once has El Paso had less than 20 crosses in a match. PRFC averages 59 percent possession per game. Locomotive FC is also second in USL Championship in passes completed per game (405.8) and third in shots on target per match at 6.

Locomotive FC’s lowest amount of shots in a game this year is 12, while only conceding double-digit shots just once. Phoenix Rising are the only team in the entirety of USL Championship to average over 20 shots a game.

Another pillar to the Locomotive FC attack is Jerome Kiesewetter. The Germany-born forward signed with El Paso on April 2 after spending 11 years with the likes of Bundesliga sides Hertha BSC, VIB Stuttgart and Fortuna Dusseldorf. The 26-year-old also has a total of 31 caps for the United States National Team U18, U20, U23 and Senior squads, scoring eight goals in that time. Kiesewetter would be making his Locomotive FC debut should he play against PRFC on Saturday.

For Phoenix Rising, Schantz will continue to deploy his build from the back, high-pressure tactics.

After displaying its best defensive performance of the year by capturing the team’s first clean sheet on the 2019 campaign, Schantz may have found his defensive formula. The center back trio of A.J. Cochran, Joey Farrell, and makeshift right back Tristan Blackmon, along with left back Amadou Dia, have started and played all 90 minutes in the last two matches.

Dia and captain Solomon Asante are currently tied for the club’s active consecutive start streak at nine, while the duo and forward Adam Jahn have played every minute of Phoenix Rising’s 2019 season.

The only two changes in Schantz’s normal starting XI last week against Fresno FC were goalkeeper Zac Lubin and midfielder Colin Fernandez. It will be interesting to see if Schantz goes back to Carl Woszczynski and Javi Perez, as both Lubin and Fernandez are coming off of excellent performances that would warrant a second consecutive start.

But Schantz has repeatedly stated that there isn’t a position controversy within his squad. Instead, he advocates for position competition in training and chooses his starting lineup based on that week’s training ground performances.

Coach Schantz joined 98.7 FM’s Arizona Sport’s Station’s Jordan Byrd on Arizona Sports Saturday prior to the match (22:30-30:00).

PRFC’s most notable playmakers have been Toronto FC loanee Jon Bakero and Asante, and after playing in only two games through Week 5, Bakero is tied for the league lead in chances created (16).

Asante is now the league leader in shots on target (2.5) and key passes (3.8) per match, and tied for third in chances created (15), while PRFC leads the Western Conference in shots on target per game with 6.8.

Rising fans should expect to see more of the same from its dynamic attack that saw the likes of Junior Flemmings switching the play for Asante to set up Bakero for a one-time shot on multiple occasions against Fresno.

Phoenix will look to get back on the scoreboard after being shutout last week. Fresno’s clean sheet is an impressive accomplishment, as Rising’s eight goals in its first four matches is ahead of the record-setting goal pace it set last year after netting six goals in its first four matches.

Phoenix Rising FC visit El Paso Locomotive FC on Saturday at Southwest University Park with a 6:30 p.m. kickoff.

The match can be viewed on CW, ESPN+ or streamed on ArizonaSports.com.

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