Rising match preview presented by NAU
Unbeaten in six, Rising (12-8-10) heads to El Paso (11-12-6) to face a desperate Locomotive side (Saturday at 6:30 p.m. on AZFSEN & ESPN+) that sits just one point out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the West.
The last time these two team met, Phoenix sprinted to a 5-0 victory at home, but this is not the same El Paso side Rising dismantled in August. Coming into that game, Locomotive FC had gone 0-5-1 while being outscored 20-5. Since that match, El Paso has gone 2-3-1 and remained even in goalscoring against its opponents, 6-6.
“They have a lot of individual talent,” said head coach Juan Guerra. “It’s a team I really enjoy watching. They’ve switched to a back five and a diamond in the middle of the field. It’s difficult to break them down. They were conceding a lot of goals but now they found this solid structure.”
If that sounds familiar it’s because Rising has also excelled defensively as of late. Phoenix has a goals-against average of 0.625 in its last eight matches, slightly better than El Paso’s 1.00 in its last six. Rising has leveraged its defense to climb well into the playoff picture and remain unbeaten since August 26.
The last time Rising went six games without a loss was 2021, when Phoenix downed Tacoma, 2-1, on September 25. That team, despite a 20-win regular season, went on to fall to Rio Grande Valley in penalties, following a 3-3 draw at Wild Horse Pass in the first round of playoffs – a match Guerra was here to see as an assistant coach and a fate he is steering away from as the postseason approaches.
“The job has been done for eight months now,” said Guerra. “The idea is clear. The game model, the tactical aspects, the identity, the style of play – the next four weeks are about mentality. How focused can you be? How concentrated can you be? Every moment, every minute of the next four games and playoffs counts.
Teams that are not focused for 90+ minutes are going to struggle. We have to learn from what happened [Wednesday] night. We’re going to El Paso. I want to win. We wanted nine of nine points from these three games, but now we’re going to have to win and still settle for seven.”