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Phoenix Rising FC look to get first win of 2019 season

(Photo courtesy of Phoenix Rising FC)

Phoenix Rising FC looks to get its first win of the 2019 campaign Saturday against Fresno FC.

Coming off of a third consecutive draw, PRFC is currently behind the two points a game pace that the club has set out for itself.

However, Week 3’s performance against Colorado Springs Switchbacks was without a doubt the best performance of the season thus far. Rising had 63 percent possession to go along with 18 corners and 32 shots, two of which hit the crossbar.

Unfortunately for Phoenix, 16-year-old Switchbacks goalkeeper Abraham Rodriguez made 11 saves including a penalty in his professional debut and was named the Week 4 Player of the Week, something that has become somewhat of a trend this season for Rising FC.

In each of PRFC’s three matches this season (Week 3-bye), Phoenix has had both a nominee and a victim for every Goal of the Week and Save of the Week (SOTW) except for the Week 2’s SOTW. So while Rising are playing at the top of its game, its opponents are also stepping up to the task.

Phoenix now has eight goals in three matches on the year (a club record), which ranks tied for fifth in the entirety of USL Championship. PRFC also has the best goals scored per game average in the league at 2.67.

What makes Rising FC’s prolific attack so impressive is that the only four teams to score more than Phoenix this year are Tulsa Roughnecks FC (13), New Mexico United (10), OKC Energy FC (9) and Portland Timbers 2 (9). However, Tulsa and New Mexico have played five games already, while OKC and Timbers 2 have played four games each.

While it’s no doubt that PRFC boasts the best attack in all of USL Championship, the defense has prevented Phoenix from accumulating more than just one point a game.

The team has allowed as many goals as its scored, meaning it also allows an average of 2.67 goals per game, something that will infuriate Rising FC manager Rick Schantz following 13 clean sheets and an average of 1.13 goals allowed per game in his 20 regular season matches in 2018. Schantz took over as interim head coach in June of last year.

Fresno is coming off of a Week 4-bye following a 1-1 draw to Reno 1868 FC in its home opener. The Foxes are the complete opposite of Phoenix Rising.

Defense is how Fresno has remained unbeaten this season (1-0-2). The Foxes have only allowed two goals (one deflection) on the 2019 campaign, which is tied for the least amount of goals conceded in the Western Conference.

The only other goal allowed this season was this absolute belter that was snubbed of a Week 1 Goal of the Week nominee:

Fresno FC’s goalkeeper C.J. Cochran is a major contributor to the Foxes’ defense, as the 27-year-old was named to the Week 3 Team of the Week for this performance:

In the attacking third, Fresno has only been able to muster four goals (one own goal) on 38 total shots and 10 corners in its three games this season. The Foxes have also only had over 40 percent possession just once.

The Foxes’ attack has come predominantly from the wings, as FFC will look to redirect shots with headers to beat the in-form Rising goalkeeper Carl Woszczynski.

Fresno will also look to utilize set pieces as FFC manager Adam Smith’s side is extremely organized and has shown the ability to play quick, one-two touch passes in dangerous areas displayed in this Week 2 Goal of the Week nominee:

For Phoenix Rising FC, Schantz has always advocated starting from the back.

Woszczynski became the USL Championship all-time leader in career saves at 388 last week against Switchbacks FC and made this Week 4 Save of the Week winner:

With Woszczynski’s multiple nominees in the month of March, he’s also been nominated for USL Championship’s Save of the Month.

It’s hard to know what center back duo, or trio, will be deployed by Schantz, as last week’s starting XI had three center backs (Tristan Blackmon, A.J. Cochran and Joey Farrell) with Blackmon being the makeshift right back for the injured Mustapha Dumbuya. Left back Amadou Dia will continue to be the team’s iron man in defense as he’s the only defender to play every minute of every match of the 2019 campaign.

Farrell scored a club record seventh consecutive equalizer on a thumping header in his season debut last week against Switchbacks. The center back’s five career goals for PRFC makes him the club’s all-time leader in goals scored by a defender.

That corner was delivered by Week 4 Team of the Week Honorable Mention Jon Bakero.

Bakero, who is on loan from Toronto FC, was making his Rising debut and did so with a man of the match worthy performance that included one assist and seven chances created including this defense-splitting ball:

The Toronto FC loanee’s seven chances created is only five fewer than the league leader who has played in three more matches than the Spaniard. Bakero is a true number 10 in Schantz’s system and will be the key to Rising’s attack alongside captain Solomon Asante. If Fresno ends up man-marking Bakero, expect to see Asante tuck in from the right wing as Bakero takes his man away, creating space for Asante, who is tied for the team lead in goals and assists at two apiece.

Kevon Lambert came off the bench last week after spending time with the Jamaican National Team along with Junior Flemmings. Lambert’s box-to-box work rate will allow Javi Perez, a true number six in Schantz’s system, to distribute the ball from the midfield. Both the goals that Fresno has allowed this season have come from the middle.

Last but certainly not least are forwards Jason Johnson, Adam Jahn and Flemmings. Johnson got the start in place of Flemmings and saw a magnificent run and piece of skill result in his shot rattling off the crossbar. The super-sub continues to be one of the team’s top performers. Flemmings should get the start and play the full 90 minutes while Johnson comes in for Bakero on the left wing, sending Flemmings to the right wing and Asante to replace Bakero in the middle, a position change that Asante said the team works on in training.

Jahn also hit the crossbar in last week’s match against Switchbacks, but he was able to give Rising a momentary lead with his diving header from an Asante cross.

Phoenix Rising FC’s host Fresno FC on Saturday at Casino Arizona Field with a 7:30 p.m. kickoff.

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