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Phoenix Rising looks to extend 8-game win streak away to RGV

Solomon Asante. (Photo courtesy of Phoenix Rising FC)

Phoenix Rising FC returns to action on Saturday night in an away matchup with Rio Grande Valley FC Toros.

RGV currently sits in 15th place and is coming off a 0-0 draw at home to Tacoma Defiance and has only managed four points in its last five matches, all of which came at home. The club has been able to muster 15 of 27 points in nine home matches on the 2019 campaign compared to its abysmal five of 27 points captured on the road. Fortunately for Rising, Rio Grande Valley hasn’t scored at home in a month and has only managed to keep a clean sheet twice this year.

RGV is led by Michael Salazar and Carlos Small, who lead the team in goals with eight and seven, respectively. The club’s leading assist men are Isidro Martinez and Maaligue Foster, the latter of which scored the team’s only goal in Phoenix’s 3-1 victory the last time these two sides kicked off against each other in May.

Rising is coming off of a bye week following the 4-2 victory at the death over Portland Timbers 2.

Phoenix currently sits in first place in the Western Conference and will be looking to extend its club-record eight-game winning streak that started with that 3-1 win.

While PRFC’s 14 of 24 points collected away from home this season might not wow you, the team has won its last three road games, a club record that was accomplished by outscoring its opponents 11-3, resulting in an average scoreline of 3.67-1.0.

Rising has been in impeccable form over the last two months both as a team and individually. Per Opta, Phoenix has USL Championship’s best per match team rating at 7.0 and there’s no arguing that. The club is tied for the fewest goals allowed (17) in the Western Conference while also leading the league in goals (45) and goal differential (+28).

Individually, goalkeeper Zac Lubin’s eight clean sheets rank second in the league, four of which have come during the eight-game winning streak. In that span, Rising is outscoring its opponents 30-6, giving the club an absurd average scoreline of 3.75-0.75. To win eight consecutive matches by an average of three goals is absolutely unheard of.

PRFC captain Solomon Asante has played a vital role in the club’s eight-game winning streak, crowning him June’s USL Player of the Month via his seven goals and four assists, and a nomination for USL Championship’s first-half MVP. And rightfully so, as the Ghanaian’s 12 goals, eight assists, two shots on target per match and 8.26 per game player rating are all league bests, per Opta. Asante is also currently the only player in USL Championship with a rating above 8.0.

I’m not sure how you stop him as of late. Asante has scored in seven straight games and notched a brace in each of the last two matches. His total of nine goals in those seven games is a Western Conference record. If he were to score on Saturday night, he will be tied for the USL Championship record for consecutive matches with a goal.

Although he would tell you that he cares more about the team’s success than individual accolades, I’m not sure how he didn’t win the league’s first-half MVP. He’s statistically the best at putting the ball in the back of the net while also providing for his teammates. What more can he do?

Two of those recipients in the AJF attacking trio are forwards Adam Jahn and Junior Flemmings, who are tied for fourth and ninth in the Western Conference for goals with nine and eight, respectively. Per Opta, the duo, along with Jon Bakero, are all in the league’s top 10 for average player ratings per match. What’s even more impressive about Flemmings’ goal count is that he has missed the last four games as the Jamaican represented his country at the Gold Cup alongside teammate Kevon Lambert.

Manager Rick Schantz also received recognition over the bye week as he was named June’s USL Coach of the Month for the second time in as many years. The club went a perfect 5-0-0 by a combined score of 19-3, culminating in an astounding average scoreline of 3.8-0.6. Up until the club’s last match against T2, Rising had not allowed an open-play goal in June since 2017 (10 matches).

I wouldn’t expect to see many changes, if any, to Schantz’s starting XI, especially after a bye week. He has played primarily the same lineup over the last two months barring injury or suspension.

And with his side currently playing the best football I’ve ever seen them play at the moment, anything but three points for the defending Western Conference champions on Saturday night will be a major disappointment.

Kickoff is set for 5:30 p.m. and will be broadcast live on ESPN Phoenix 620 AM and audio-streamed on ArizonaSports.com.