Orange County SC: a club that needs no introduction to Phoenix Rising FC.
Arguably PRFC’s biggest rival, Saturday night’s match will be the 20th contest between the two sides including last year’s Western Conference Final, the most against any single team in USL Championship. Rising leads the all-time series 8-6-5, the latest being a 2-1 loss away to Orange County.
Rising and OC come into the match in second and 10th place, respectively, in the Western Conference standings, but only four points separate the two sides.
OCSC is coming off of a 1-1 draw away to Las Vegas Lights FC in which it was able to rescue a point late in the second half while being a man down. OC’s 36 yellow cards and three red cards this season are the most and second-most in the league, respectively.
The club is unbeaten in its last seven matches, only two of which are wins, but it has yet to take all three points in any game on the road this season.
Orange County forwards Darwin Jones and midfielder Aodhan Quinn lead the team in goals with six and five apiece, respectively. Quinn is also tied with forward Jerry van Ewijk for the club leader in assists at three.
Phoenix Rising comes into Saturday night’s contest on the heels of the 5-0 dismantling of Tulsa Roughnecks FC. The club is now on a four-game winning streak that began after the 2-1 loss away to OC. Rising has outscored its opponents 16-3 in that span that includes two clean sheets.
The club is firing on all cylinders as of late. Per Opta, PRFC’s team rating (7.0) and goals per match (2.4) are the best in USL Championship. Phoenix’s +17 goal differential is also the best in the league and nearly double the next-best in the Western Conference.
Individually, captain Solomon Asante is leading by example, as his 3.5 key passes per match and 8.05 player rating are the best in the league, per Opta. No other player has a rating over eight. Asante is also tied for first in assists and second in chances created in USL Championship with seven and nine, respectively.
The attacking trio of Asante, Adam Jahn and Junior Flemmings (AJF) has been arguably the deadliest attacking trio in USL Championship. AJF account for 22 of the club’s 31 goals (71%), with Asante and Flemmings assisting or scoring 26 of the 31 goals on the 2019 campaign (84%).
Jahn is currently tied with Flemmings for the team’s golden boot at eight apiece, six of which have come in the last five games, including Week 14’s Goal of the Week.
However, midfielder Kevon Lambert and Flemmings will not be available for Rising manager Rick Schantz for about a month as the two Jamaicans will be representing their country in the Gold Cup. This will be the first match this season that Flemmings will not step onto the pitch for PRFC.
But while replacing Flemmings’ offensive prowess will be an extremely tough task for Phoenix, it may not necessarily have to be in the form of goals.
Schantz has always preached defense first, being a defender himself as a player. “We can’t lose if they don’t score” is the old saying.
Rising goalkeeper Zac Lubin has now accumulated six clean sheets in 10 matches since taking over between the posts, just one spot behind the league leader. What makes the feat even more impressive is that it has been done with five different backline combinations.
There is also something about the month of June that fortifies the PRFC defense. Whether its the heat or mid-season continuity, the club has not allowed a goal in the month of June since 2017. Phoenix has played six matches in June since then.
Phoenix Rising will be looking to extend its nine-match unbeaten streak at Casino Arizona Field dating back to last year – including playoffs – on Saturday night. And with the team having the most points possible in the Western Conference by only being two points behind first-place New Mexico United with two games in hand, a Rising win could see the club atop the West.
Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. and will be broadcast live on ESPN Phoenix 620 AM and audio-streamed on ArizonaSports.com.