PHOENIX RISING FC

Phoenix Rising flips regular-season switch, routs San Diego in 2021 opener

Apr 30, 2021, 11:08 PM | Updated: 11:24 pm
Phoenix Rising forward Santi Moar (right) celebrates after assisting midfielder Aodhan Quinn (#14) ...
Phoenix Rising forward Santi Moar (right) celebrates after assisting midfielder Aodhan Quinn (#14) on a goal in PRFC's 4-1 win over San Diego Loyal on April 30, 2021, at Wild Horse Pass in Chandler, Ariz. (Owain Evans Photo)
(Owain Evans Photo)

CHANDLER, Ariz. — Whatever notions you had about Phoenix Rising FC after the 2021 preseason, throw them out the window.

The PRFC of old returned to the pitch on Friday night, defeating San Diego Loyal SC 4-1 to open up both the USL Championship regular season and the new stadium at Wild Horse Pass in front of a limited-capacity crowd.

“There was a lot of doubt going into this game. It was actually kind of fun,” manager Rick Schantz said postgame. “I told the guys stay off social media the last couple of days, but I was paying attention. I told them that no one expects us to win. No one believes in us.

“But I trusted my veterans and these are good kids. They work extremely hard. I’m so proud of them. … It’s only three points, but considering all we’ve gone through in preseason, it’s time to close the old chapter and move on to a new season and new home with our beautiful fans.”

It was all Rising from the get-go — if the 13-0 first half shot margin didn’t tell you that already. In fact, Phoenix was able to get six of its first 13 shots on target — including one goal — despite only having 41% possession in the opening 45 minutes. That’s largely due to San Diego’s possession style of play, which allowed PRFC to apply its trademark high defensive pressure and counterattack.

Phoenix continued its dominance in the second half, totaling 25 shots (11 on target) compared to San Diego’s three (one) for the match. Rising may have only seen 38% ball possession total on the night, but that didn’t stop PRFC from scoring more goals than Loyal had shots.

San Diego struggled mightily with Phoenix’s press. Loyal attempted to play goal kicks short and build through the back, but Rising’s pressure was too much and forced turnovers that eventually led to goals.

“What I asked them to do was run more than the opponent. Press them — don’t let them have any joy,” Schantz said.

“We just wanted to play high and we wanted to have their keeper have the ball as much as possible and make him the playmaker and it worked,” left back Ryan Flood added postgame. “They kept giving us the ball right away and we kept countering and scoring a lot of goals.”

Schantz went with experience for his first starting XI of 2021, with the only real surprise being Flood making his pro debut.

“Ryan loves Phoenix,” Schantz said. “He’s a hometown kid and his heart is so huge and I knew that going into a game like this that the veterans would perform. But I needed somebody that was really going to die on the field for the team tonight and I knew Ryan wouldn’t let me down.”

The Valley native was fantastic in his first match in a Rising kit, as his pace and ability to whip balls in with his powerful left foot provided the support to left winger Santi Moar that had been missing in the preseason.

Moar picked up where he left off last season — which was probably Rising’s best outfield player in the playoffs — as the Spaniard picked up one goal and two assists in the 2021 season opener.

“This is great,” Moar said. “Obviously, Rick Schantz had confidence in me for the last two seasons. I’m very happy. Last year obviously wasn’t a great start. This year we changed the roles, so it’s awesome.”

PRFC’s Jon Bakero was also back to his old self in the midfield. The Spaniard ran himself into the ground on the night and played more like a No. 8 than a No. 10 by providing support both offensively and while defending.

A theme of the match was setting up Rising’s midfielders for shots at the top of the box. So it’s no surprise to see that three of the team’s four goals on the night came from the starting midfield trio, the last of which featured Kevon Lambert’s signature flip celebration.

However, San Diego did manage to peg one goal on Loyal’s first shot of the night thanks to former Phoenix Rising forward Ben Spencer, who poked the ball past a diving Andre Rawls with one of his very first touches of the game.

Regardless of San Diego’s goal — which is really just a blimp on the radar on the night for Phoenix — Rising is actually on pace for the lofty goal of 100 goals scored in 32 matches set by Schantz in the preseason.

I’m honestly in disbelief of how well PRFC played tonight after the rather poor preseason performances. And not because I didn’t think Phoenix could, as Rising proved in each of the last two seasons that slow starts were just a bump in the road. If PRFC can continue this type of complete performance both offensively and defensively — especially against the likes of San Diego Loyal — there’s no reason why Rising can’t win the Pacific Division.

“I told the guys today before the game started that that crest they wear is not a crest. It’s a shield,” Schantz said. “Nobody breaks your shield when you come together and you have to stay together. I said all the noise outside, all the concern and the worry about preseason — nobody else can hold the shield but you guys. And boy they really protected the house.”

EXTRA TIME

PRFC goalkeeper Andre Rawls picked up a groin injury in the last five minutes of the match while running to get a ball near the edge of the penalty area. Schantz said after the match that he is concerned at the severity of the injury and that goalkeeper Zac Lubin had successful back surgery on Friday and “will be back on the field in a couple of months.” Should Rawls not be able to go next week, Lalo Delgado will make his Rising debut against Oakland Roots SC on May 8.

Defender Noah Billingsley was left out of the Matchday 18 due to “problems with his visa.”

UP NEXT

Phoenix Rising hosts USL Championship newcomer Oakland Roots next Saturday at Wild Horse Pass in Chandler.

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

Penguin Air

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