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 Phoenix Rising FC

Preview: Finals Rematch

June 20, 2024 - United Soccer League Championship (USL)
Phoenix Rising FC News Release

In a rematch of the 2023 USL Championship, Phoenix Rising FC hosts Charleston Battery at 38th St/Washington this Saturday, June 22 at 7:30 p.m. One of the most anticipated games of the year will also be the first $1 Beer Night, the club's annual Pride celebration and its first nationally televised match on ESPN2.

"There is a lot of noise coming into the game on Saturday," said midfielder JP Scearce, who started his second match in the last three weeks vs. El Paso on June 15. "We respect Charleston. We know they have great players and are having a good season."

Unlike El Paso, Phoenix is catching Charleston at the right time. The Battery rocketed out of the gate, remaining unbeaten in its first 11 matches before dropping a 2-1 decision to El Paso on May 24. Since then, Charleston is 0-2-2 and has been outscored 4-1 in its last four games (0.25 GPG).

"It doesn't change the fact that they're a very strong team with a very good set of players," said Rising head coach Danny Stone. "At some point they will begin firing and scoring a lot of goals. We'll do everything we can to make sure that doesn't happen this week. Either way, I have no doubt they'll be around the top of the table at the end of the season."

During media availability on Tuesday, Stone was asked what is different about between this Battery side and the one Rising faced in last season's finale.

"They've added a few players into the group," said Stone. "And they're good players. [Aaron] Molloy in the midfield is an integral piece for them. He has been a good player in the league for a few seasons now. Stylistically they're consistent and similar to what we saw last season. We're familiar with [Nick] Markanich from last year but he has had an outstanding first half of the season. I singled out those two, but this is a strong team overall. I expect to see some similar things and there is good reason for that. They have been successful."

The difference in Stone's team is an improved defense that has allowed a franchise low 1.06 goals per game. Phoenix has leaned on that team defense and the play of goalkeeper Rocco Rios Novo to lose only once in its last eight league matches.

A big part of that defense has been Mo Traore who, much like last season, increased his role on the team when Rising was at its best. Traore came on strong at the end of last season, starting 12 games in a row heading into the final, then delivering the all-important cross that John Stenberg headed home against Charleston in the 90th minute of the final. He has now started seven of the last nine games for Phoenix, continuing to grow into a role in the team's offense.

"Like we saw against Orange County, Mo was an integral part of both goals we scored," said Stone. "Him and Laurence [Wyke] have the ability to provide for us when they get into the higher areas."

Getting its outside backs into the attack more often may be the answer for Rising as it looks to increase its rate of scoring. The team has taken strides, increasing its shots on goal per game from 3.8 in 2023 to 4.5 this season, but the conversation rate has dipped from 19% (2023) to 12%. Phoenix (5-5-5) is just a point off pace from 2023 (5-4-6) and the turning point last season was a match on ESPN2 on July 1, when Rising's offense caught fire in the summer heat and dropped six goals on a Memphis 901 side that was tearing up the league at that point (8-2-4).

Rising is back on ESPN2 this Saturday and a former Memphis midfielder will be patrolling Charleston's midfield... there's a lot of things lining up this weekend, but that'll happen when you're selling Modelos for $1.

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