Rising Hosts San Diego Tonight at 7:30 PM on CW61 Arizona & ESPN+
For the second time in this 2020 season, presented by Equality Health, Phoenix is preparing to host San Diego at Casino Arizona Field. Back on Aug. 15, Loyal was just two points off the pace when Rising dispatched the first-year club, 2-0, thanks to goals from Junior Flemmings and Darnell King. This time, Phoenix holds a seven-point lead on the upstarts, but San Diego is a much different team than they were in mid-August.
"They've picked up four new players in the last two weeks," said Rising head coach Rick Schantz. "Miguel Berry, Rubio Rubin, Alejandro Guido and Tarek Morad, a defender. Those forwards have really impacted the way they play. They've gone away from a 3-5-2. It has transformed into a 4-4-2, but it is off balance. It allows Berry to play as a No. 9 on the left side and Guido plays underneath. They still get a lot of numbers forward, like they did in our first game, but now it is a little different shape."
Selected by the Columbus Crew in the 2020 MLS SuperDraft, Berry, a San Diego native, returned home to join another hometown hero, Guido, who joined Loyal on loan from LAFC. Loyal SC has not lost since adding the duo. They have only allowed one goal in their last four matches. Berry and Guido have also combined for four goals, which has flipped the trajectory of Group B back into a Phoenix/San Diego showdown.
"They're trying to put a lot of pressure on the center backs they face," said Schantz. "For us, with Kevon [Lambert] sitting in front of our center backs intercepting balls, we create a three-on-two there. Lambert has made a big impact for us against teams that play this way. He is growing into being a No. 6. He's happy with it. He's starting to realize people have an appreciation for a player like him. His passing accuracy has also been very high this season, which has made a huge impact for us. This has been a breakout year for Lambert."
Coming off a 5-1 victory with a five-point lead on the next-closest team in Group B, things might seem wrapped up for Rising, but two of Rising's last four matches will be against this retooled and hungry Loyal SC side. A third will be against Orange County, who is 1-0-1 vs. Phoenix in 2020.
"We have to win the division first," said Schantz. "Once we secure that first home game, we'll see where the chips fall. If Sacramento and Reno grab a bunch of points, we need to be focused on being rested and ready for the playoffs. We need to peak at the right time."
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