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Phoenix Rising look to extend undefeated season in Austin

Phoenix Rising FC goalie Zac Lubin (Courtesy Phoenix Rising FC)

Phoenix Rising FC will close out a two-game Texas road trip on Wednesday as the club takes on USL Championship debutant Austin Bold FC.

PRFC is coming into Wednesday’s match in good form. The club is coming off of its second consecutive clean sheet and first win of the season following last week’s 2-0 victory over El Paso Locomotive FC.

Austin comes into the match following a heartbreaking 1-0 loss to Sacramento Republic FC on a corner in the 85th minute of the game. However, the Bold’s defense is one of the league’s best, as the club’s three allowed goals on the year is tied for the second-fewest in USL Championship. Austin’s two clean sheets also match Phoenix’s shutout count.

But it has been Austin’s attack that has prevented the club from capturing more than the four of 12 points it has mustered on the season. The Bold’s 44 total shots (third-worst in USL Championship) and 66 percent team passing accuracy (second-worst) are major contributors to its lack of offensive success.

A couple of notable Austin Bold FC players are forward Kleber Giacomazzi and midfielder Xavier Baez.

Giacomazzi has scored both of Austin’s goals on the season, while Baez was named to the league’s Week 4 team of the week after making nine recoveries and completing 88 percent of his passes (38 of 43), including three key passes en route to the first win in club history.

Fortunately for Rising FC, Giacomazzi is suspended for Wednesday’s matchup and will not be available to suit up for Bold FC.

The Bold are a defensive team that averages just 42.3 percent of possession, including only 36.7 percent in the club’s last match against Sacramento. Austin is the type of club that will try to outwork its opponents physically with defense rather than methodical possession play, thus, leading to scrappy goals and low scoring games.

Coincidentally, Bold FC has outshot its opponent in both of its losses this season while also being outshot in both of its draws.

Austin’s defense has been extremely vulnerable on the wings this year, specifically on crosses and set pieces.

Rising manager Rick Schantz will look to utilize the crossing abilities of his wingers to whip balls in for the likes of 6-foot-3 Adam Jahn and 6-foot-5 Ben Spencer.

Austin Bold’s defense has also shown that it can be exploited with pace through the middle via good passes and ball control, two attributes that are not lacking on Schantz’s team.

PRFC forwards Junior Flemmings, Solomon Asante and super-sub Jason Johnson will look to get in behind the Austin defense with their blistering pace as well as cut inside to take defenders on for eventual shots or final balls.

Phoenix has now scored 10 goals in its first five matches, putting the club ahead of the record-setting pace it set last year.

Schantz has to make a decision prior to the start of Wednesday’s match.

Rising FC’s next match is in three days against Tacoma Defiance, formerly known as Seattle Sounders 2. Austin Bold FC is currently in last place in the Western Conference standings, so Schantz will have to decide whether to continue playing his preferred starting nine or rest some of his stars for Saturday’s contest.

On Wednesday morning, the PRFC manager told 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station’s Doug & Wolf that he will “ride the hot hand” and start goalkeeper Zac Lubin once again following a second consecutive shutout.

A.J. Cochran and Joey Farrell seem to be the manager’s preferred center back duo, as Cochran is coming off of a performance that saw him win five of seven duels, make four interceptions, eight recoveries and an assist, good enough to name him to the Week 6 team of the week.

Phoenix is coming off of its best defensive performance of the year after having a 90.9 percent tackle success rate that included 22 tackles and 18 clearances. The win puts the club record for consecutive matches to start a season without a loss at five.

PRFC will be looking to remain unbeaten on the 2019 campaign, as a win over the Bold would place it just one point behind the club’s 11-point mark in its first six matches of 2018. Phoenix set a team record for the most points ever accumulated in a season in last year.

Kickoff time is set for 5:30 p.m., and the match can be audio streamed on ArizonaSports.com.