Match preview presented by NAU
Phoenix entered the 2022 season with the second-longest active home unbeaten streak in the USL Championship. But losses suffered by El Paso Locomotive already this season handed the baton to Rising, which comes into Saturday’s match (7:30 p.m. at Wild Horse Pass) riding a 19-game home unbeaten streak.
The team that came closest to knocking off Phoenix at home is also Saturday’s opponent, San Diego Loyal, which had Rising down, 0-2, in stoppage time on June 5, 2021. Fortunately for Phoenix and its streak, Mr. Clutch, Joey Calistri entered the match. Calistri helped to set up a goal by Santi Moar at the 90+1 mark and then volleyed home a corner kick to tie the game in the seventh minute of stoppage time.
The last team to defeat Phoenix at home? Also San Diego Loyal, 3-2, on Sept. 19, 2020.
“They’re one of, if not, the best team in the league,” said Rising head coach Rick Schantz. “They’ve added a lot of players. San Diego has an amazing roster. The way they play is very attractive. There is a lot of rotation, a lot of good ball movement. They’ve become a little more practical in their approach to the game now. They can hit you a couple different ways. Saturday night will be an extremely difficult game.”
Loyal opened the season, 2-0-0 at home before falling, 1-0, to FC Tulsa in Oklahoma on Wednesday night. Rising also got tripped up on the road in its last match, losing 2-1 to Las Vegas Lights FC last weekend.
“Vegas scored early in the game and earned the right to do whatever they wanted after that,” said Schantz. “We couldn’t find any sort of rhythm in the first half. The second half was a little better. We were able to get more numbers high against their back line. That game could have ended 7-6. There was not a lot of defending by either group. Las Vegas was just a little more desperate to not get scored on than us.”
Whether defensively or offensively, Rising has always found a way at Wild Horse Pass. It opened its new stadium by peppering teams with goals, winning the first three matches in Chandler 4-1, 3-0, and 5-1. Towards the end of last season, Rising leaned on its defensive form to win at home, allowing less than one goal per game in its last five home matches in 2021 to remain unbeaten.
“Our field is fast,” said Schantz, when asked about the advantage of playing at home. “It’s big. We can take advantage of that because it is hard for teams to get really compact. The fan support is like having another player out there. We have a lot of extra energy in the last 15 minutes of each half. When you’re playing at home you can really focus on just the match. When you travel, everything else comes into play. At home, we’re extremely concentrated.”