Goalkeeper Zac Lubin is already Phoenix Rising’s playoff MVP

Oct 29, 2020, 2:52 PM

Phoenix Rising FC goalkeeper Zac Lubin. (ArizonaSports/Ashley Orellana)...

Phoenix Rising FC goalkeeper Zac Lubin. (ArizonaSports/Ashley Orellana)

(ArizonaSports/Ashley Orellana)

If there was a Conn Smythe trophy for USL Championship, Phoenix Rising FC goalkeeper Zac Lubin would have one hand on it.

That’s because Lubin is already Phoenix Rising’s playoff MVP.

And the reason for that is very simple: PRFC does not reach the 2020 USL Championship Final without the play of the Montana native.

Now that doesn’t mean that other players aren’t contributing to Phoenix’s postseason run, but let’s just take a look at these metrics:

Rising has played three playoff matches that have all gone 120 minutes. So in theory, PRFC has played four 90-minute matches worth of minutes (360).

Over that span, Phoenix has only allowed three goals — including a 120-minute clean sheet against Sacramento Republic in the Western Conference quarterfinal — which averages out to 0.75 goals conceded per 90 minutes.

And when you consider that one of those three goals was an absolute gift from Lubin to Reno 1868’s Corey Hertzog in the Western Conference semifinal, it’s amazing to think that Sacramento, Reno and El Paso Locomotive only managed to combine for two other goals over 360 minutes.

But the eye-popping stat is the amount of saves Lubin has made over the course of three playoff matches, specifically the number of one-on-one saves. Of his 15 saves, only one came against Sacramento:

But Lubin was required to make eight saves in Reno — including three one-on-one saves — and six against El Paso in the Western Conference Final, three of which were 1-v-1s (by my count).

Not to mention, Lubin has also made the only two saves in each of the penalty shootouts Rising has won in order to advance to Sunday’s USL Championship Final away to the Tampa Bay Rowdies — but those saves don’t count on the stat sheet.

And if you didn’t know it, you would think the goalkeeper was a forward after his perfectly performed celebration following PRFC’s penalty shootout victory over El Paso.

“When good people get put into difficult situations, it’s good that they get rewarded like that,” Phoenix Rising manager Rick Schantz said of Lubin after the Western Conference Final.

“He’s not only a fantastic goalkeeper, but a first-class human being and I’m really happy for him. I told him thank you and he’s showed me a lot. I’m very proud.”

Another factor that makes Lubin’s performances this postseason so remarkable is the fact that Phoenix Rising has only had a one-goal lead for a total of 47 of the 360 minutes (13%). Otherwise, PRFC has been tied for 248 minutes (69%) or trailing for 65 minutes (18%).

That means that for the 313 minutes (87%) Rising was tied or behind, Lubin played with the pressure of knowing that allowing a goal would only give the opposition the lead or increase Phoenix’s deficit.

Then when you add the fact that PRFC has only scored four goals over three playoff matches (one goal per 90 minutes) after averaging 2.75 goals per match (44 goals in 16 games) as USL Championship’s best-attacking side in the regular season, you understand the magnitude of each Lubin save.

And that’s not to say Phoenix isn’t a good defending team. In fact, the club only allowed 17 goals during the regular season, good enough to finish tied for fourth in the Western Conference and eighth in the league.

To give PRFC’s spot takers credit, though, Phoenix is a perfect 9-of-9 in two penalty shootouts this season and has made 14 consecutive penalties in a shootout dating back to the 2019 Western Conference quarterfinal against Austin Bold.

However, Rising’s opponents on this playoff run have been some of the best offensive and defensive teams in the league, as Reno boasted the league’s best regular-season record and second-best attack behind PRFC.

Defensively, Sacramento allowed the same number of goals as Phoenix (17), El Paso only allowed 14 (tied for best in West) and Tampa conceded just 11 on year (second-best in USLC).

“When you get to this time of the year, every team is good both defensively and offensively,” Schantz said via Zoom on Wednesday. “So for us to be arrogant and think that the offense just carries this team — statistically I know it seems like we score a lot of goals.

“But this is a sport that requires 11 people to work together to accomplish that goal. The way that we’ve changed in the last two and a half years, the importance of our defenders, even Zac and his ability to pass the ball and make decisions to start our attack is very good.”

Sunday will mark the goalkeeper’s third USL Championship Final in five years and his second with Phoenix in three seasons. However, PRFC legend Carl Woszczynski was in net for the 2018 Final and Lubin was also on the bench for the 2016 Final loss.

The 2020 Championship Final will be the first the goalkeeper will get to start in as he and Rising attempt to bring home the one trophy that seems to keep eluding them. Lubin is also one of only four players remaining from 2018 (Solomon Asante, Kevon Lambert, Joey Farrell).

“Unless you’ve lost a Final, then you don’t know how bad that hurts,” Lubin said via Zoom on Wednesday. “Everyone obviously at this point — just like Tampa — is in a great run of form right now. We’re feeling really good, feeling invincible.

“But at the same time, we conveyed that message of what it takes: We prepared and did everything we could in 2018 and still came up short. And I just think that’s something the four of us have been able to echo about how difficult it is to 1) get there but then how difficult it is to win that game and the hurt of losing and now letting the guys know we have to do everything to prepare to win this game.

“The momentum we have is great, but that’s not what’s going to get us the win. It’s full focus on that one game and the rest of the season doesn’t matter.”

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