Phoenix Rising Game Notes
Phoenix Rising opens the 2020 USL Championship Playoffs, presented by Arizona Complete Health, vs. Sacramento Republic this Saturday at Casino Arizona Field (7:30 p.m. on CW61 Arizona, ESPN 620 AM and ESPN+).
"Sacramento is a team you would expect to see in the later rounds of playoffs, but here we are," said interim head coach Blair Gavin on Thursday. "They're organized on the back line and they like to press their opponents, as we do. We're looking forward to this challenge."
Rising enters the match having outscored opponents 32-9 at Casino Arizona Field this season, but the team has struggled to start matches well. Including the goals which were nullified by San Diego's forfeiture on September 30, Phoenix has allowed 11 first-half goals this season. Eight of those have come before the 20th minute of the match, including last weekend's goal by LA's Augustine Williams, which came in the sixth minute.
"I was happy with how resilient our team was last week," said Gavin. "Especially after giving up that early goal. They came back and took control of the game. We obviously want to start this match on our front foot and push the game at our opponent. Everyone on the squad has given more in training this week due to the absences we're facing. Training this week has been a joy."
Always at the forefront of Phoenix's strategy, Solomon Asante was named USL's assist leader on Tuesday. The 2019 MVP picked up nine this season in addition to creating 42 chances.
"Solo has an ability to bring everyone together," said Gavin. "His laugh is contagious, but he can also provide focus to the group. I've leaned on him a lot in the last week."
The fresh and motivated league MVP is supported by Santi Moar, who scored a very Junior-Flemmings-like goal last weekend vs. LA Galaxy II as well as Sam Stanton, who is heating up at the perfect time of year. Phoenix's offense will be pitted against Sacramento's, which ranked fourth in the league with 253 shots this season. Accordingly, Saturday's matchup has all the ingredients of a shootout, but it may also come down to who can limit opponents chances.
"We know we have capable players on our back line," said Gavin. "We just need to find the balance. Corey Whelan gives us stability on the right and Darnell King is quickly building familiarity with Moar. We had a great regular season, but it gave us one more week of football. Getting a win on Saturday allows this group to stay together for another week. That is our motivation."
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