(Photo courtesy of Phoenix Rising FC)
Phoenix Rising FC returns to action Saturday night away to Western Conference rival Orange County SC.
This will be the first meeting between the two clubs since last year’s Western Conference Final in which Rising won 2-1 through goals from Chris Cortez and Didier Drogba.
Orange County and PRFC have had slow starts to their 2019 campaigns as the two clubs sit in 11th and 14th place, respectively, following a 2018 season that saw the two sides in the league’s final four.
However, with the Western Conference being so tight, a Rising win would see the team just one point out of first place.
Both teams come into this Week 9 matchup coming off draws.
OCSC tied 2-2 away to Fresno last week after Orange County’s 2-0 lead evaporated in the last 15 minutes of the match.
The draw also saw the second consecutive start for 17-year-old OC goalkeeper Aaron Cervantes, a United States U-17 product that has seen playing time against the likes of Argentina, Chile and Mexico’s U-17 teams.
Cervantes’ Week 3 performance against OKC Energy FC was good enough to warrant the teenager the Save of the Week.
Saturday night’s contest could come down to the other team’s goalkeeper yet again, as PRFC lead all of USL Championship in total shots (149) and shots per game (18), and lead the Western Conference in shots on goal per match (6).
Orange County has allowed as many goals as Rising has scored this season (14), which ranks tied for the 11th-most goals conceded in the league. The match may also be extremely physical, too, as OCSC is third in the league in fouls conceded (121) and tied for fifth in yellow cards (17).
OC’s offense has actually been better than Phoenix’s this season, statistically anyway.
Orange County has scored 15 goals on 104 shots in eight matches, giving the club a 19% conversion rate that ranks tied for fifth in USL Championship. The 15 goals are also tied for the sixth-most goals scored in the league thus far.
OCSC has managed to score in six of its eight matches this year. Orange County has scored a minimum of two goals in each of those six games and has only been shutout twice, both times on the road.
OC also has a 78 pass completion percentage after completing 3,305 passes in 2019 compared to Rising FC’s 80% accuracy on 3,462 completed passes.
Orange County’s leading goal scorer Darwin Jones (4) exemplified the aforementioned in his Week 5 performance against Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC as his two goals and 81% passing accuracy (17 of 21) saw him named to the Team of the Week.
OCSC also has the likes of forward Jerry van Ewijk and midfielder Aodhan Quinn, the team’s top two chance creators with 14 and 13, respectively.
Phoenix is coming off of a 0-0 draw away to Sacramento Republic FC last week.
This marks the fourth clean sheet in five matches for goalkeeper Zac Lubin who was nominated for USL Player of the Month following four clean sheets, 13 saves and a 92.9 save percentage in April. Lubin has now only allowed one goal in five matches since becoming the starter and is tied for the second-most clean sheets in the entirety of USL Championship, only one less than the league leader.
Although Rising FC didn’t come home from SAC with all three points, the team is still continuing to play well.
Per Opta, Phoenix has the third-best team rating (6.9) and Solomon Asante has the second-best average player rating (7.8) in all of USL Championship. The captain also leads the league in shots on target (1.9) and key passes (3.4) per match. Asante’s four assists on the season rank tied for third in the league, just two off from the league leader.
This will be the 19th installment of this bitter rivalry (including playoffs).
PRFC currently leads the all-time series 8-5-5 and is unbeaten in nine of the last 10 matches (4-1-5) against last year’s Western Conference runner-up. Rising won the 2018 season series 2-1-1 and is unbeaten in its last six matches at OC (2-0-4).
Phoenix Rising FC will look to repeat its 2018 Western Conference Final result against Orange County SC on Saturday night.
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. and the match can be audio streamed on ArizonaSports.com.