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Phoenix Rising begins to pull away from rest of Western Conference pack

(Aaron Blau/FirebirdSoccer.net)

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The magic of $1 beer night.

Phoenix Rising FC defeated Reno 1868 FC by a score of 4-2 on Friday night in front of a crowd of 7,046, the 15th consecutive sellout at Casino Arizona Field that dates back to last season’s playoff run.

The club also extended three more streaks: 13 consecutive wins on $1 beer night, 14 straight victories (USL Championship record) and 15 consecutive unbeaten matches at home that also dates back to last year’s playoff run.

As if those streaks weren’t enough, captain Solomon Asante also set the all-time team record for goals scored (32) after converting from the penalty spot twice.

Reno came into the Valley as the second-place team behind Phoenix in the Western Conference standings and was able to quickly prove why, outshooting Rising 17-12 with its consistent ability to stretch Phoenix’s defense.

Fortunately, the back four for Phoenix was up to the task.

“If we weren’t in such good form, I’d like to say that’s the best team in the Western Conference,” Rising manager Rick Schantz said. “They were very good, very difficult to play against. … For us to pull out that win, I knew at 1-0 it wasn’t going to be easy and you can see why they score a lot of goals as well.

“A lot to learn for us to get better all the time. I’ll push them, but I told the coaches, that’s 14 in a row, 13 on $1 beer night, and now Solo [Asante] is the career goal-scoring leader for Phoenix Rising. What can I say? This is unbelievable. You have to pinch me because this is a dream.”

Schantz elected to make a change in his midfield trio from last week’s 2-1 win over El Paso, starting James Musa for Jose Aguinaga, as Musa’s defensive midfield partnership with Kevon Lambert aided the 4-4-2 diamond formation that Reno plays.

“Because they play a diamond in the midfield, we felt we needed both Kev [Lambert] and James [Musa] both to be on the field because defensively, they can cover a little bit more ground,” Schantz said.

“But the real reason was Jose [Aquinaga] took a little bit of a knock last game, his hip was a little tight and I just wanted to rest him. He’s a fantastic player.”

Although the scoreline may give the notion of Rising having control of the game, it was a hard-fought victory that could have gone either way before Phoenix scored two in quick succession with a half-hour to go in the match, one of which came from the penalty spot.

The other came from right back Mustapha Dumbuya, his first of the season. Dumbuya put in a Man of the Match worthy performance both offensively and defensively, including denying two pass attempts in his own box while caught in a two-on-one to keep his side ahead just before the halftime whistle.

Phoenix Rising opened the scoring with its trademark inside of 20 minutes goal in the 20th minute via Junior Flemmings, his 10th on the 2019 campaign. Phoenix now has three goal scorers with double-digit goals (Asante 18, Adam Jahn 11).

Reno would get its equalizer early in the second half, though, a goal that had been coming since the end of the opening frame. After Dumbuya blocked the initial shot, the ball fell to the feet of Reno’s Danny Musovskia, who was able to put the close-range shot in the back of the net to level the match at 1-1 in the 53rd minute.

Rising would quickly reclaim the lead, however, as left back Amadou Dia was brought down in the box, awarding Phoenix a penalty. Asante would step up and convert from the spot to give his side a 2-1 lead in the 59th minute.

Dumbuya would double Rising’s advantage just two minutes later after playing a one-two with Lambert, who back-heeled the right back in on goal. Reno’s keeper made the initial save, but couldn’t deny the second shot, as Dumbuya was able to poke the rebound home for his first goal of the season.

Reno would get one back in the 74th minute, however, making it game-on for the final 15 minutes of the match. Reno was able to stretch Rising’s defense with a ball out wide that Aidan Apodaca was able to play across the face of goal for an easy tap-in by Corey Hertzog.

Phoenix refused to go more than five minutes without responding to a Reno goal, as Asante was able to convert from the penalty spot once again after Lambert was brought down in the box upon his first touch from an Asante pass.

Rising (53 points) now has a nine-point lead over Reno and Fresno FC, who are both tied for second place with 44 points. However, Reno has played two more games than both Phoenix and Fresno, who have both played 23 apiece.

So, theoretically, once Phoenix makes up those two matches, it could possibly have an insurmountable 15-point lead over Reno with nine games to go in 2019. Rising will play Fresno once more this season on the road on Sept. 21. The two tied 0-0 in the first leg back on Apri 6.

Rising returns to action on Friday to host 10th-place Sacramento Republic FC on the second of back-to-back $1 beer nights. The two sides drew 0-0 in their last matchup back on April 27.

Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. and will be audio-streamed on ArizonaSports.com.