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Phoenix Rising uproots Oakland to remain perfect on 2021 campaign

Phoenix Rising FC forward Santi Moar celebrates after scoring a goal against Oakland Roots SC at Wild Horse Pass on May 8, 2021. (Owain Evans Photo)

CHANDLER, Ariz. — It was a relatively complete performance from Phoenix Rising FC on Saturday night at Wild Horse Pass.

PRFC defeated Oakland Roots SC 3-0 to remain perfect on the 2021 USL Championship campaign.

With Saturday night being Oakland’s first-ever match in USL — in addition to a managerial change less than a month ago — there was a lot of unknown as to what to expect from the Roots coming into the match. Former Arizona United SC Tyler Blackwood started upfront for Oakland in what seemed to be a 4-3-3 formation in attack that would transition to a 4-5-1 in defense.

“It was just a lot of communication. We prepared well,” center back James Musa said postgame. “Obviously we didn’t know exactly what we were going to get. We tried to prepare as best we could. We have 11 strong players on the field, good strong squad of 22 players and we put it all together tonight.”

In typical Rising fashion — which is usually due to the opposition getting used to the heat and high pressing early on — PRFC scored in the opening 10 minutes of each half. Schantz then deployed a slight wrinkle to his system that was clearly evident in the second half, as Rising showed a slightly more possession-based build-up with short passing in the midfield while defending a two- and three-goal lead.

“I think at times we got a little stretched,” manager Rick Schantz said. “I think we scored some timely goals to score in the first 10 minutes and then right out of the second half against a new team, that’s what you have to do.

“In the second half, we were kind of working on a little bit of midblock. It was OK, but it’s hard when you train to be aggressive all the time and then ask them to kind of pull back a little bit. … But overall, I thought the back four — the back six because we made two subs — were very good. And Ben (Lundt), — one game, one clean sheet, so I’m very happy about that.”

Phoenix would finish the match with 45% possession and outshot Oakland 11 (six on target) to nine (two). PRFC also had seven corners compared to the Roots’ three.

Schantz deployed the same exact starting XI as he did against San Diego, with the exception of one change: Lundt, who arrived on loan from MLS side FC Cincinnati earlier in the week.

“He’s such an intimidating figure in goal,” Schantz said. “Any time there’s a cross, you don’t get too nervous — he’s going to go and get it in a big crowd. He’s so powerful. There were a few that he punched that I would’ve liked to have seen him catch. But when they get zero at the end of the game, you don’t really say much to the goalkeeper.”

Defensively, Rising collected its first clean sheet of the season and forced Oakland to wait until the second half to get its first shot on target — the second time that’s happened in back-to-back weeks for PRFC.

“It’s just communication, defending as a unit” Musa said. “We’re very intense with our pressing, we’re not giving the team time to breathe and we’re just confident in what we’re doing.”

“We play what the game gives us,” he added. “If the game giving us possession and the other team drops off, we’ll gladly do that. If the team wants to press us, we’ll gladly go long as well. We don’t preach possession here, but if the game gives us that, we have players that can do that.”

Once again, Phoenix scored on a rebound after Rufat Dadashov’s shot was saved by the Oakland goalkeeper and pounced on by Solomon Asante for the game’s opening goal in the 10th minute.

The goal marks the third to come from a rebound of the seven that Phoenix has scored this season. Rising is currently on pace to bag 119 goals, which is well ahead of pace for the target of 100 set by Schantz in the preseason.

PRFC doubled its advantage just three minutes into the second half after Musa sent a long ball for left winger Santi Moar, who cooly controlled the ball and megged the goalkeeper for his second goal on the year.

“It’s just like little communication in training,” Musa said. “It never comes straight away but I tell Santi, ‘If you check-in and go long, I’ll find you.’ And it worked out.”

In the 68th minute, Asante got his brace — the eighth in his PRFC career — thanks to an error from the Oakland goalkeeper.

However, Schantz praised his captain postgame for his resilient pressure and credited the Ghanaian for the goal rather than taking advantage of a mistake.

“I’ve seen him do that with so many goalkeepers where they try to pass it out,” Schantz said. “He’s so quick laterally. I hope you guys all realize that it’s not really a mistake from the goalkeeper. This kid is just unbelievably quick and anticipates — he’s doing it on purpose.”

With the win, Rising retakes its spot atop both the Pacific Division and Western Conference with six points out of six and a goal difference of plus-six.

“The players feel confident, they’re playing well,” Schantz said. “But now we’re playing Tampa Bay Rowdies on Saturday and it’s a very, very good team — very powerful, very physical and this will be the biggest test we’ve ever had.”

UP NEXT

Phoenix Rising travels to Florida to take on Tampa Bay Rowdies next Saturday on ESPN2.

Kickoff is set for 5 p.m. and will be audio broadcast live on ArizonaSports.com and on the Arizona Sports app.