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Phoenix Rising welcomes fans back with blowout win over Las Vegas

Phoenix Rising FC (Arizona Sports/Ashley Orellana)

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — For the first time since Matchday 1 on March 7, Phoenix Rising FC played in front of fans at Casino Arizona Field.

Albeit with fewer than 1,000 season-ticket members, PRFC gave the crowd a reason to cheer in the club’s 5-1 win over Las Vegas Lights FC on Friday night.

The match was the second of a back-to-back, home-and-home between the two sides and the third time the Group B opponents played each other in as many weeks.

In those two games, Phoenix Rising blew a 3-1 lead in the dying minutes of the match to draw 3-3, and then followed that performance up with a 2-0 win.

Friday night’s contest was all PRFC and really captured the disparity in quality between the two sides.

The three points extend Rising’s lead atop USL Championship Group B with just four matches remaining in the regular season.

Phoenix Rising manager Rick Schantz made one change to his starting XI from last time out, but not by choice.

Forward Santi Moar started in place of captain Solomon Asante, who was left out of the Matchday 18 due to a lower-body injury he picked up in training.

“Solo had a light little niggle in his leg and it wasn’t worth the risk,” Schantz said after the match. “It’s an opportunity to get him some rest. He’s played a lot and it turned out OK.”

From the kickoff, Rising executed Schantz’s pressing system to perfection and was constantly playing on the front foot.

Early on, PRFC seemed to win or be the first to nearly every ball. And if Las Vegas did manage to get to the first ball, it was only for a clearance that gave possession right back to Phoenix.

“It was massive,” Schantz said of the return of fans. “I went into halftime at 2-0 and I asked the guys how they felt. They said that adrenaline rush when you’re out there — they were all telling me after 20 minutes they were dying.

“They were very tired because in that first wind, you have to get rid of it pretty quickly. And when you have fans, it’s like that energy — you want to run and run and run and run, and then realize the game is so fast. But credit to our guys because they didn’t look like they dropped off at all.”

When in possession, Lights FC struggled to get the ball out of its own half due to the suffocating pressure from Rising FC, which helped Phoenix lead the game in shots 18-8 (9-4 on target).

Rufat Dadashov was able to get a brace in the first half to bring his goalscoring tally up to 10 on the 2020 campaign, good enough to rank second in the league for the Golden Boot.

The Azerbaijani international opened the scoring in the 27th minute after guiding a Kevon Lambert header off a corner into the back of the net to give PRFC a 1-0 lead.

Dadashov would follow that up with a tap-in thanks to Moar’s layoff on a two-on-one with the Las Vegas goalkeeper to give Phoenix a 2-0 lead right on the halftime whistle.

“Well, it’s a two-v-one and if I shoot and I miss, I will look really, really bad,” Moar said of his decision to lay the ball off for Dadashov. “So obviously when a player is open and we’re in the box, it doesn’t matter if I score, he scores — the only thing that matters is that on the scoreboard, we [got one more].

“That’s the most important thing and obviously he is fighting for top scorer now. I want Junior (Flemmings) and Rufat to get there because it’s a competition for them, but also for the team. So hopefully they can keep fighting (for it) and if I can help them get there, even better.”

Junior Flemmings — USL Championship’s August Player of the Month — would get on the scoresheet 10 minutes into the second half. The Jamaican international took a pass to feet from Dadashov in the box with his back to goal, turned and stuck the ball into the back of the net while falling down to give Rising a commanding 3-0 advantage.

Those three goals now put Flemmings at 12 and Dadashov at 10 on the year, which ranks No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, for the Golden Boot lead as the league’s top scorer.

“That seems to be what we do here,” Schantz said. “I don’t think Solo is too far behind. Our front three now, it’s going to be hard to chase what we had last year with the front three. Rufat is a clinical finisher and Junior is on a different planet as well. The Jamaicans are really doing well.”

You’re most vulnerable of allowing a goal immediately after conceding is old saying. Less than two minutes later, Sam Stanton would get in on the goalscoring festivities with his first goal in a Phoenix Rising kit to give his side a 4-0 lead.

Jon Bakero would make it 5-0 in Rising’s favor after tacking on another goal for good measure from the penalty spot in the 72nd minute.

But unfortunately for Zac Lubin and Phoenix’s defense, Las Vegas would get its consolation goal thanks to Bryan de la Fuente’s 82nd-minute goal to end PRFC’s clean sheet on the night and bring the match to its final scoreline of 5-1.

UP NEXT

Phoenix Rising returns to action on Sept. 19 as the club hosts Group B opponent San Diego Loyal SC.

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