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Rising looks to advance to Western Conference Final Tonight vs. Reno 1868

October 17, 2020 - United Soccer League Championship (USL) - Phoenix Rising FC News Release

A 20-game-winning streak and a regular-season title paved the way for home field advantage throughout last season's playoffs. Unfortunately, that path of least resistance evaporated in a 2-1 home loss to the eventual champ, Real Monarchs SLC on Nov. 1, 2019. Now, nearly a year later, only one obstacle remains for Phoenix Rising to regain the home-field advantage it lost a year ago. Phoenix faces Reno 1868 FC tonight at 6 PM in the 2020 USL Championship Playoffs, presented by Arizona Complete Health.

"The way they play is challenging because they'll go man-to-man all over the field," said interim head coach Blair Gavin. "They'll put pressure on you. They'll press high. They're really good in transition. They have a lot of players that can hurt you on the attacking side."

In the midst of a four-game road trip at the end of August, Rising fell, 2-1, to Reno in Nevada thanks to a goal-and-an-assist performance by Corey Hertzog. The game-winning goal came immediately after Rufat Dadashov had tied the match, 1-1, in the 76th minute.

"Corey is a special player," said Gavin. "Communication between our back line and our defensive midfield will be important in containing him. If we can pressure Reno higher up the field, hopefully his movement becomes a little more predictable."

Phoenix's defensive midfielder, Kevon Lambert was inches away from earning man of the match that night. The Jamaican rattled the crossbar with a header from a corner kick in the 31st minute, then assisted on Dadashov's goal in the 76th minute after Rising's press forced a turnover via Solomon Asante. More importantly, the high press from both sides played a hand in all three goals scored that night.

"A lot of the strategy we've been trying to build throughout this week is starting fast once again," said Gavin. "We want to play the game on our terms and create separation from their man-to-man organization. It's about creating space and putting players into a position where they can face forward."

Phoenix used a similar strategy in last weekend's narrow, 1-0, win vs. Sacramento Republic FC, outshooting the club, 20-9, by the end of extra time. That was also the case on Aug. 29, where Rising created 25 shots to Reno's 11. Reno goalkeeper Benjamin Beaury also made five saves that night, including a spectacular stop on Joey Calistri's point-blank shot in the 50th minute.

"At this point in the season, it's about getting the mindset right," said Gavin. "Can we get the strategy correct in the time we have? I believe we can."

If they do it, Casino Arizona Field will be pegged as the site of the western conference and USL Championship Finals once again. And who wouldn't be excited to go back to the way things were in 2019?

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