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Rising host Rio Grande Valley in first Copper State Friday match of season

(Photo courtesy of Phoenix Rising FC)

Phoenix Rising FC hosts Rio Grande Valley FC in what is the first Copper State Friday match of the season.

This will be the first of six Copper State Fridays in which PRFC is unbeaten in its last six matches at home dating back to last season. But there’s something about Copper State Friday games that gives Rising a boost. Whether it’s the Copper State Friday kit or $1 beer night for the fans, the club is a perfect 9-0-0 all-time on $1 beer night and have outscored their opponents 26-8 in those games.

Phoenix’s single-game record for goals scored at home is four, which has been done 10 times at Casino Arizona Field. Half of those came on $1 beer night. But the excellent form doesn’t end with the offense. Rising has only allowed two goals in the last seven $1 beer nights that includes a six-match clean sheet streak that was snapped in October of last year.

Rising are unbeaten the five previous matches between the two sides with Phoenix taking nine of the 15 points possible. In those five games, no team has scored more than two goals in a match and Rio Grande Valley has been shutout in the last three, including last year’s 1-0 Rising FC victory. PRFC has never won back-to-back matches over RGV.

Phoenix is coming off of a 2-1 defeat to Western Conference rival Orange County SC.

The loss did see the return of Jon Bakero, who came on as a substitute and picked out Adam Jahn on a set piece for Rising’s lone goal.

But the loss wasn’t the biggest blow, as the club announced that Jason Johnson will be out for four to six months with a lower-body injury. The absence of Johnson will require the likes of Joey Calistri to step up as his replacement. Calistri made his first start for the club last week in place of captain Solomon Asante, as the Ghanaian was unavailable due to personal reasons.

Albeit the team’s injuries woes and rotation of forwards, PRFC is still tied for second in USL Championship in shots on target per game (5.8) and per Opta, Phoenix is tied for fourth in average possession (55.4) and big chances created (20).

To say RGV is in form would be an understatement. After starting the year with a draw and three losses in its first four games, Rio Grande Valley is unbeaten in its last five, winning three and drawing two. What’s even more impressive is the fact that four of those matches were against the top four teams in the Western Conference.

Rio Grande Valley was able to hold a Kevaughn Frater-less New Mexico United (first place) to 0-0.

RGV followed the shutout performance with a 2-1 victory over OKC Energy FC (tied for fourth).

Rio Grande Valley continued its newfound form with the 5-2 thrashing of Las Vegas Lights FC. Midfielder Maalique Foster had a goal and an assist, giving him 14 chances created on the year (tied for second on the team) and a spot on Week 7’s Team of the Week.

In what has to be the craziest game of the 2019 USL Championship season thus far, RGV was able to tie LA Galaxy II (tied for fourth) 4-4. The match saw seven goals and a red card in the last 22 minutes, including Michael Salazar’s hat trick in 14 minutes after coming on in the second half. The feat was good enough to name him to the Week 8 Team of the Week.

RGV is coming off of a 2-1 victory away to Portland Timbers 2 (tied for second) that saw midfielder Wilmer Cabrera Jr. score the opening goal and finish with two shots on goal and one key pass to name him to the Week 9 Team of the Week.

The game also saw Carlos Small score a goal for a third consecutive match.

In those last five matches, however, Rio Grande Valley has been extremely vulnerable in the air, as four of the eight goals RGV has conceded have come from crosses and headers.

If PRFC is able to get the ball out wide and use the wings, like they normally do, Adam Jahn will have a plethora of chances if he can be provided quality service.

And although Rising’s performance thus far in 2019 may be disappointing to some, the team only sits six points out of first place in the Western Conference. A win would put PRFC in a tie for fourth place, just three points behind first-place NMU.

Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. and the match can be audio streamed on ArizonaSports.com.

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