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Phoenix Rising look to secure three points against Switchbacks FC

(Photo courtesy of Phoenix Rising FC)

Phoenix Rising FC return to the newly renamed Casino Arizona Field on Saturday for a Week 4 fixture with Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC.

PRFC is coming off a bye-week that was favorably timed, as the two-week pause allowed Jamaicans Junior Flemmings and Kevon Lambert to play for their national side without having to miss any matches for Rising FC.

Switchbacks FC is coming off a 1-0 win at the death against San Antonio FC after Cesar Romero’s wonder-strike in the 86th minute hit the back of the net from nearly 30 yards out.

Colorado Springs has captured six points in its first three matches of the 2019 campaign by having also defeated LA Galaxy II, 4-1 in the season opener. Switchbacks FC’s leading goal scorer Shane Malcom netted all three of his goals this season with a hat trick in the season opener that named him the Week 1 player of the week.

Colorado Springs finds itself in fourth place in the Western Conference standings through three weeks of the 2019 USL Championship season and have been able to do so because of its defense.

Switchbacks FC has only allowed two goals so far this year, one of which was a penalty. That lack of a tally is currently tied for second in the Western Conference for the least amount of goals conceded. Colorado Springs’ only two goals allowed came against LA Galaxy II and Sacramento FC, the latter of which came from the penalty spot.

Switchbacks FC’s defensive prowess has been on display all season. Week 1’s allowed goal to LA Galaxy II was an absolute cracker, but it was only a late conciliation goal for Galaxy II in the Colorado Springs 4-1 victory.

Switchbacks followed its Week 2 performance by keeping a clean sheet against SAFC at the weekend. Sacramento FC is tied for fifth in the Western Conference with Rising FC in goals scored (6) and San Antonio is tied for second in all of USL Championship in shots (50).

In the attacking third, Switchbacks FC is tied for ninth in the entirety of the league in shots (44). However, Colorado Springs have only been able to muster one goal in its last two matches following its four-goal performance in the season opener. This is largely due to most of Switchback FC’s shots coming from outside the box or in the air, as defender Ismaila Jome’s 19 crosses and midfielder Alex Molano’s 17 rank fifth and sixth, respectively, in the Western Conference for crosses. Rising FC captain Solomon Asante is tied for seventh in the same category with 16.

Colorado Springs will look to attack Phoenix on the wings, as four of the team’s five goals on the year have come from crosses (two headers) or balls played across the face of goal. All four of those goals came in the season opener away to LA Galaxy II.

Phoenix Rising FC’s Achilles heel four weeks into the 2019 campaign has been its defense. The team is tied for the sixth-most goals allowed in all of USL Championship. Oddly enough, though, seven of the top eight goal scoring teams are in the Western Conference. However, six of the eight teams that have allowed the most goals are also in the Western Conference. To be fair, Rising FC and Austin Bold FC are the only Western Conference teams to play two games coming into Week 4, while over half the Eastern Conference has a game in hand as well.

Goalkeeper Carl Woszczynski, Phoenix’s longest tenured player, currently sits tied for ninth in the league with eight saves, one of which came minutes before super-sub Jason Johnson’s equalizer at the death. Eight of the top 12 keepers with the most saves made this season are in the Western Conference.

Rick Schantz has gone with four different center backs in the team’s two matches on the season. He went with the duo of Doueugui Mala and LAFC loanee Lamar Batista away to San Antonio in the season opener, followed by the duo of A.J. Cochran and another LAFC loanee Tristan Blackmon against New Mexico United. If Schantz were to implement a fifth different starting center back, Joey Farrell would be next up.

“Every week is a competition,” Schantz said at the team’s open training session Monday.

“We defend as a team. We attack as a team. So for us to say that we have any positional problems, that’s not what’s happening right now. The focus this week would be on concentration and I think Tristan, A.J., Mala, Joey are all capable of playing well. Right now we know that there’s a good chance to have Tristan and Shaft Brewer back for this coming weekend so the four of them will have a good competition the rest of the week and I look forward to see who performs the best.

“We do want to get some consistency but you don’t really get consistency until we can get a solid performance so we’ll keep looking at some different combinations possibly but the reality is that the whole team just has to defend a little bit better right now.”

Rising FC fullbacks will have to step the Switchback wingers in order to close the space and prevent good service into the box for the 6-foot-1 Mike Seth.

Amadou Dia will mostly likely get the start on the left, but after the substitution of makeshift right back Shaft Brewer Jr. for Mustapha Dumbuya last match, perhaps a third LAFC loanee will get the nod from Rising FC manager Rick Schantz.

On the other side of the coin, Phoenix Rising FC’s signature is its high pressure, counterattacking style. PRFC will continue to use the pace it has on the wings with its fullbacks, as well as its wingers Flemmings and Asante to whip in balls into the box for 6-foot-3, 185-pound Adam Jahn. The Phoenix number nine can also play with his back to goal and hold the ball, allowing Jahn to play runs coming off of him. Ironically, Jahn also leads the team in yellow cards as a forward.

Javi Perez will sit in front of the defense as a true number six, while Jose Aquinaga will play underneath the forwards in a more central, number 10 role. This will allow Lambert to play as a box-to-box midfielder and support in the attacking third while also being a ball winner in the center of the park and defensive third.

Switchbacks FC dominated possession in its last two games with 62.2 percent and 58.8 against Sacramento and SAFC, respectively. This is due to Colorado Springs either be tied or trailing in a match. Switchbacks only had 43 percent possession away to LA Galaxy II despite posting a 4-1 victory. This came as a result of Colorado Springs’ 3-0 advantage just fifteen minutes into the second half.

If Switchbacks FC takes the lead or is tied late in the match, expect to see Colorado Springs give up possession for a more defensive shape to at least secure a point. This could prove as an advantageous matchup for Phoenix, as it would play right into Schantz’s high pressure and counterattacking style of play. And even if Switchbacks do park the bus, PRFC’s league leading three goals a game average that includes six consecutive equalizers has proven that Phoenix is never out of it.

“They’re organized,” Schantz said.

“[Jordan] Sweitzer in the middle with [Rony] Argueta — that’s kind of like two holdings mid. Malcom and Saeed Robinson out wide with Mike Seth up front. They’re number 10 reminds me a lot of Gladson [Awako] — really, really good on the ball and sharp in tight spaces but doesn’t really make a lot of runs forward. It’s funny — we talked about this as a staff. What we’re seeing with OKC, San Antonio, Colorado Springs, even some of these other teams that last year our formula was very successful and a lot of teams have kind of adopted a high-nine and fast wingers and a number 10 underneath — more of a counterattacking system.

“Defensively, we need to be a little more aggressive kind of in our offense — to attack their back four. Solo, Junior, or J.J. [Jason Johnson] and Adam are great up front. Ben spencer is kind of back to healthy so he’ll push at them this week and then when Junior and Kevon Lambert get back [from being with the Jamaican national team], I think for the first time this year we’ll be at full strength.”

PRFC’s Johnson is tied with Asante as the team’s leading goal scorers with two each. Johnson has only played 18 minutes in each of his two caps this season, while fellow Jamaican Flemmings is tied for second in the league with two assists in half as many games as the league leader who sits atop the leaderboard with three.

“We’ve changed and tried to adapt and want to be better as a club going forward and it takes time,” Schantz said.

“What we’re doing, if it were easy, we wouldn’t have changed and we’d just keep winning games but we’re building a club and building a future here and developing players that can be high-level pros so the expectations are very high from our staff.”

Phoenix Rising FC host Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC Saturday night at Casino Arizona Field with a 7:30 p.m. kickoff time.

The match can be viewed on CW or listen live on ArizonaSports.com.


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