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Poor finishing, turnovers cost Phoenix Rising in loss away to Reno 1868 FC

Phoenix Rising FC forward and captain Solomon Asante. (Arizona Sports/Ashley Orellana)

It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.

Phoenix Rising FC — who boasts USL Championship’s best attack — failed to do just that in Saturday night’s 2-1 loss away to Reno 1868 FC.

But it wasn’t for a lack of trying or creativity from PRFC. The club just didn’t have the clinical finishing prowess that we’ve become so accustomed to seeing over the last two seasons.

Coming into Saturday night’s contest, Phoenix had scored 28 goals in nine matches for an average of 3.1 per game. And with Rising outshooting Reno 25-11 (6-4 on target), it seemed like a mathematical probability that more than one of those 25 shots would have found the back of the net.

But it just wasn’t meant to be for Phoenix Rising on the night.

Reno’s 4-2-3-1 man-marking system made for an interesting tactical battle between the two managers.

PRFC manager Rick Schantz elected to go with a front three of Santi Moar, Junior Flemmings and Soloman Asante — keeping regular starting No. 9 Rufat Dadashov on the bench. Rising was without Lagos Kunga and Owusu-Ansah Kontoh, the latter of which was left out of the Matchday 18 due to a lower-body injury.

And due to the absence of Kontoh, fullback Darnell King was deployed as the team’s left back, while Joey Calistri got the start at right back. Rising’s wing play was extremely aggressive both offensively and defensively.

Time and time again, King and Calistri would be seen high up the pitch — both when pressing and when in attack, especially when the ball was on their respective sides. The risk-reward element of that style of play is being exposed at the back on the counter-attack from the space vacated by the fullbacks — usually a midfielder such as Kevon Lambert will fill in as a third defender when in possession on the opponent’s side of the field.

There were multiple times when Reno would start a counter and Moar would end up having to cover for King. Now that is by design when the ball is lost in Reno’s attacking third. However, both of Reno’s goals came off of turnovers in the midfield by Rising’s front three. That caused an earlier or higher starting point for Reno’s counter with King trailing behind the ball due to his high attacking position when in possession.

Fortunately for Phoenix, the loss was accompanied by a 0-0 draw between Orange County SC and San Diego Loyal SC. And following both results, PRFC remains atop the Group B standings.

And while Phoenix still holds a five-point lead over Orange County, OC still has two games in hand on Rising — meaning OCSC could jump PRFC in the standings should it win both of those matches. However, that isn’t the only implication of Saturday night’s results.

The loss for Phoenix Rising and win for Reno gives 1868 FC 21 points in nine matches. That point and match total are significant for seeding and home-field advantage come playoff time, as Group A and Group B will decide one Western Conference finalist. And as of Saturday night, Rising FC does not control its own destiny in hosting any playoff matches.

Dadashov provided the lone goal and spark for PRFC on the night. After coming on for Moar in the 64th minute, the Azjerbajani international scored the equalizer just 13 minutes later. Lambert was able to intercept a pass in Reno’s half and quickly play it up to the No. 9 — a trademark goal of Schantz’s system.

The goal is Dadashov’s seventh on the 2020 campaign, good enough for sole possession of the second-most goals on the team.

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UP NEXT

Phoenix Rising FC completes both the four-game and Nevada road trip away to Las Vegas Lights FC on Sept. 5 in what is the first of a back-to-back, home-and-home between the two sides.

Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. and will be audio broadcasted live on ArizonaSports.com and on the new Arizona Sports app.


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