Head coach Patrice Carteron looks on as the club warms up prior to kickoff. Phoenix Rising FC is 13-3-7 since Carteron's arrival to Phoenix. (Michael Rincon/PHXRisingFC.com)
PHOENIX (October 20, 2017) — For the first time in club history, Phoenix Rising FC will take the pitch for a USL playoff game. The team’s first-ever postseason match will kick off in Kansas City on Saturday night, with Phoenix Rising taking on Swope Park Rangers in the first round of the 2017 USL Playoffs. The match begins at 5:30 p.m.
After a record regular season that saw the club win a franchise-best 58 points and 17 games, Rising FC enters the playoffs as the No. 5 seed in the Western Conference. Swope Park Rangers, the defending Western Conference champion, also finished the season with 58 points, but earned the No. 4 seed – and home playoff game – thanks to a goal differential tiebreaker.
Phoenix Rising was successful this season against Swope Park. In the clubs’ first meeting on April 23 in Arizona, Rising FC scored the first four goals of the match, then hung on to win 4-3 .
The teams met again on June 18 in Kansas City in a 2-2 draw. Rising FC forward Didier Drogba scored twice that day to earn his club its first away draw of the season.
Rising FC also enters the playoffs in great form. The club ended the regular season winners in eight of its final nine matches. After the team started the season with five losses in its first nine games, Rising FC went 13-3-7 the rest of the way – each of those final 23 games came under the leadership of head coach Patrice Carteron and with Drogba a member of the squad.
While Drogba was a key addition for Phoenix Rising, his 8 goals this season were second most on the team. Fellow forward Jason Johnson registered 13 goals this year; that was the eighth-best mark in the league and second-best single-season tally in club history.
Another important midseason improvement for Phoenix Rising was the team’s defense. Through the first nine games, Rising FC conceded 17 goals (1.89 per game). In the final 23 matches, the team conceded just 20 goals (0.87 per game). Goalkeeper Josh Cohen had 8 clean sheets individually this season, eighth most in the USL.
Meanwhile, Swope Park Rangers enter the postseason after finishing the year on a 4-2-1 run. Swope Park finished its regular season slate last Wednesday with a 2-1 win over Seattle Sounders 2.
Forward Kharlton Belmar has been Rangers’ biggest threat offensively, scoring 14 goals in 28 appearances this year. Swope Park also got big contributions from Nansel Selbol (9 goals), Christian Duke (7 assists) and Lebo Moloto (45 chances created) this season to help the club secure a second-ever playoff berth in its second season of existence.
Last season, Swope Park also finished fourth in the Western Conference and caught fire in the postseason. The team won in each of the USL Playoff’s first three rounds, outscoring its opponents by a combined 8-1 score to reach the USL Cup Final, before falling 5-1 to New York Red Bulls II.
This year, Swope Park has been excellent at their home pitch, Children’s Mercy Victory Field. The club recorded an 11-2-3 mark when hosting this season, and have not lost a home match since July 30, a 4-1 defeat to Reno 1868 FC.
Rangers conceded just 37 goals this year (1.2 per game) and collected 11 clean sheets as a team. Goalkeeper Adrian Zendejas recorded 8 of the shutouts himself.
The winner of Saturday’s match will face the winner of the Real Monarchs SLC versus Sacramento Republic FC game. Saturday’s winner will host the second round game if Sacramento also wins; if not, the winner will travel to Utah to face Real Monarchs next week.
Phoenix Rising and Swope Park Rangers had only ever faced each other once before this season, a 1-1 draw in July 2016 in Arizona.
Postseason Game 1 – Phoenix Rising FC at Swope Park Rangers
Date: Saturday, October 21, 2017
Kickoff: 5:30 p.m.
Stadium: Children's Mercy Field
All-time Series: Phoenix Rising is 1-0-2 all-time against Swope Park Rangers