Rising FC caps off historic 2019 regular season with trophy presentation
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Phoenix Rising FC is your 2019 USL Championship regular-season title winner. Nothing new there.
But there is a new addition to the club’s trophy case.
After a 3-1 win over OKC Energy FC on Friday — which also extended the club’s record to 15-0-0 on $1 beer night — Phoenix lifted the USL regular-season title trophy in front of the supporters’ section at Casino Arizona Field.
“I’m really happy for the players because we’ve been talking about breaking Cincinnati’s records for most points and most wins for a couple of weeks now,” Rising manager Schantz said.
“I think we left it until the very end. I told the guys today before the game that you have a chance to erase Cincinnati from the record books and be there all by themselves. I said, ‘You want to be remembered. I want to put up on the walls in our building a bunch of records and pictures of these guys because Phoenix should be talking about this team for a long time.'”
Rising came into the match having dropped eight of its last 12 points, a run of form that called for concern with the playoffs on the horizon. But it couldn’t have been a better performance from Schantz’s side, who deployed what should be the playoffs’ starting XI.
Phoenix dominated the match and had one of its best passing performances between the midfield and forwards. That was largely due to OKC’s inability to mark Rising midfielders Jon Bakero and Jose Aguinaga, who were able to exploit the acres of space and easily get AJF touches in dangerous areas.
Phoenix’s greatest spell of possession came in the 32nd minute after a 10-pass build-up culminated in a Kevon Lambert goal that could be a goal of the year nominee to make it 2-0 in Rising’s favor.
But what might go unnoticed due to the lopsided victory is Rising captain Solomon Asante missing his third straight penalty. With the possibility of penalties in each playoff match, the question now becomes who will be next to step up to the spot for Phoenix?
“Well Solo is captain and it’s up to him,” Rising forward Adam Jahn said. “If he’s feeling it, then he’s going to take it. If he’s not, then he’ll tell one of us to take it. But it’s his, he’s earned it. It’s his call. He’ll put them in.”
As a team, Phoenix now holds the all-time single-season record for most points (78), goals scored (89), goal differential (+53), and of course, the illustrious 20-game win streak.
Individually, Asante should be the unanimous MVP after having arguably the greatest season in USL history. The captain won the Golden Boot with his 22 goals — three short of tying the single-season record — and set the record for most assists (17) on Jahn’s opening goal of Friday night’s match against OKC in the 21st minute.
Jahn went on to put the match away at 3-0 with his brace in the 69th minute off a corner that was headed on by defender A.J. Cochran and smashed home by Phoenix’s No. 9.
OKC would get its consolation goal in the 73rd minute, as Deshorn Brown’s left-footed strike blew past the outstretched hand of Rising goalkeeper Zac Lubin and into the back of the net to bring the match to its final scoreline of 3-1.
It took all 34 games, but Rising completed arguably the greatest regular season in league history. The club set nearly every record imaginable both collectively and individually, and set the standard for the rest of the league in 2019.
Forwards Junior Flemmings and Jahn were also vital to Rising’s success this season. The duo finished with 15 and 17 goals, respectively, and combined with Asante, their collective 54 goals make AJF the deadliest attacking trio in league history.
Defensively, Phoenix led the conference with 14 clean sheets (third in USL), 13 of which belong to Lubin, just two short of tying the single-season record.
Phoenix will return to action on Saturday to host the Western Conference quarterfinal. However, Rising will not find out its opponent until Wednesday after the two play-in matches between the No. 7-10 seeds, which nine teams could find themselves in.
The lowest remaining seed will come to Phoenix and it is entirely possible that Rising’s path back to the USL Cup Final could include New Mexico United, Real Monarchs SLC and Fresno FC. Rising dropped points to all three clubs in the last month and failed to defeat both Fresno and New Mexico this season, including the 2-2 U.S. Open Cup match that NMU advanced on via penalties on May 15.
Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. and will be audio-streamed on ArizonaSports.com.
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