Phoenix Rising Game Notes
Last weekend, Rising learned that for some teams in Group B, it's already playoff time. San Diego (6-4-5, 23 PTS) struck for three first-half goals in a must-win situation for Loyal SC. Fortunately for Rising (8-3-2, 26 PTS), LA Galaxy II (7-5-1, 22 PTS) was also desperate for points nearing the conclusion of the regular season.
Los Dos bit back with a stoppage-time goal on Wednesday, September 23, to reduce the amount of points both teams can achieve by two. Now, Rising can clinch a playoff berth with a win this weekend.
"It's going to be an extremely difficult game," said Rising head coach Rick Schantz. "We're playing another team that is fighting for their playoff lives. They have that extra motivation. The good news is that we've tied and lost to them already, so our players are also extremely motivated. At a bare minimum, getting four points against a group opponent is important. Splitting the season with Orange County is huge. A win at home against a team we haven't beaten would be nice."
This is the first time this season that Rising will have the opportunity to face a team it has lost to previously. The opportunity should hopefully arise again in the second round of playoffs, as Reno (10-2-1, 31 PTS) is running away with Group A. Rising would force a rematch with 1868 with a first-round win.
"We want to win the division, not just make the playoffs," Schantz said. "Three points this weekend would go a long way to making that a reality. If we win our division, the one thing I know is that we'll be battle-tested. We'll be ready. I'm glad that we've played a lot of tough games."
Despite the setback last weekend, Rising did unveil its newest player. Center back Damion Lowe played 13 minutes plus stoppage-time for Phoenix in the 3-2 loss to Loyal.
"Damion is gregarious and happy, but very serious about his profession," said Schantz. "It's a perfect ignition for our team right now. The way we play, with an aggressive attacking system, the center backs don't have to run back and forth all the time. They just need to be on their front foot and be able to deal with long balls, which is Damion's forte. He has been great in training, very intense and athletic. He is a great organizer."
The added depth on defense could be what separates Rising's 2019 team and its 2020 side.
"A year ago, at this time, we had just lost to Fresno and ended a 20-game winning streak," said Schantz. "We were physically exhausted. The team felt like it had already achieved something. This year, we are fresh and hungry. Physically, we're peaking at the right time."
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