Phoenix returns from a difficult mid-week match in Louisville, just two wins out of a playoff spot and facing the very team currently occupying the seventh and final postseason slot in the West, Sacramento Republic (7:30 p.m. at Wild Horse Pass).
“Pregame, I told the team to forget all the goals we’ve had all season and let’s just get one game,” said Rising head coach Rick Schantz following the game on Wednesday. “They fought to the very end. The whole team battled. Coming into the match, the idea was to push Jawneh, Antwi and Hurst as far as we could. We thought Santi, Claudio and Marcus could come in and get us a goal vs. a tired back four in the second half. Man, if we put that one away early in the second half, we could have walked out of here with three points, but I’m still so proud of the team today.”
With six saves on the night, goalkeeper Ben Lundt climbed atop the USL Championship rankings with 63 on the season while also earning his fourth clean sheet of the season. The shutout was the first for Rising since a 3-0 win vs. San Antonio on May 7 – a stretch of two-and-a-half months.
“Musa… that was the response I expected from him,” said Schantz of his defense. “Kevon Lambert and Joe Farrell are warriors. When we’re up against a wall, these guys respond. For anyone that thinks this team is not together, today is a good response.”
Following Rising’s last clean sheet on May 7, it also traveled to Sacramento. A mid-week U.S. Open Cup match against the Republic, Marcus Epps rocked the crossbar with a header in the 35th minute and Arturo Rodriguez earned a penalty kick in that match, but Phoenix could not convert its chances and fell, 0-2, to bow out of the tournament. Since then, Phoenix has gone 1-7-2, but a point on the road to the top team in the league has restored faith.
“Mentally, we’re back,” said Schantz. “We had our chances to win it. Jawneh beats players. Look at how quick he is, he nearly got a goal on the toe poke in the first half. Antwi had a great strike that forced an outstanding save out of the goalkeeper. It could have been 3-0 at halftime. Our back four and midfield really committed to defending.”
“This year, we’ve got some good results against the top teams in the league,” added Joe Farrell. “We can play with anyone. We got a point [in Louisville]. Now, we’re looking to make it four this week.”