Photo courtesy of Ashley Orellana and Phoenix Rising FC.
Welcome back to Rising Tactics Recap, a weekly column where I attempt to provide insight to Phoenix Rising fans by breaking down some strategic and tactical observations from Phoenix’s latest match.
Around the 87th minute of every home game, the media housed in the Casino Arizona Field press box jog, or power-walk, down the stairs, across the concourse, and out on to the north end of the field to get ready for post-game interviews. If you take too long getting from the press box to the field, you might miss something important.
Though none of us actually missed a goal in Phoenix Rising’s 6-0 win over Austin Bold, it felt like there was a very good chance that Phoenix was going to tack on a seventh during our dash.
After a truly bizarre first half filled with fouls, injuries, and goal-line clearances, Phoenix Rising opened floodgates in the second half of Friday’s Dollar Beer Night. Once Phoenix settled into the game in the second half, the goals started coming and didn’t show any signs of stopping.
Phoenix went into halftime with a tenuous 1-0 lead, but a change in mentality made a big difference in the second half.
“You know, I said at halftime, we’re going to win this game if we match the physicality, if we come out and we match that with them, because I know we can play, and the guys, they came out, they were so committed to it,” Rick Schantz said after the game. “Junior, what a great assist to Musa, [on the second goal] and I think that kind of broke their spirit a little bit.”
After re-watching the second half, it was clear that Schantz was right: Austin lost their Boldness and quickly tired of dealing with Phoenix’s attacking quality. Austin’s inability to defend Phoenix in the second half was understandable, though. The sheer number of different ways that Phoenix can create chances makes their attack difficult for any team to deal with.
The game’s second goal, James Musa’s thunderous half-volley, came from a well-executed “overload to isolate” concept. At the start of the sequence, Joey Farrell, Austin Ledbetter, Jon Bakero, James Musa, José Aguinaga, Adam Jahn, and Solomon Asante were all on the right half of the field.
Positioning an abnormally large number of players on one side of the field forced the Austin’s defense to compensate and place a large number of defenders on that side of the field as well. With a high concentration of players in one area of the field, Junior Flemmings was left isolated on the weak side.
As Phoenix moved the ball from overload to the isolation, Musa recognized and ran through a gap between Austin’s left back and left center back. One headed pass from Flemmings and two touches from Musa later and the ball was in the back of the net.
Phoenix moved the ball so quickly from one zone of the field to the next that it was hard for Austin to keep up. On Musa’s goal, they moved the ball from side to side. On Asante’s goal a few minutes later, they moved the ball vertically from one box to the other.
The ball literally traveled almost due north as it moved from Amadou Dia to Flemmings, via Musa and Jahn in central midfield. Because Musa was able to flick the ball past an on-rushing opponent, Jahn was able to carry the ball forward and find Flemmings in space, who was in a 2 on 1 with Asante against an Austin defender.
Flemmings simply slid the ball over to Asante and watched him do the rest.
Down 3-0 at this point, if Austin’s spirits weren’t already broken into small enough pieces, they were about to be crushed José Aguinaga. As I’ve mentioned before, one of the most impressive parts of Aguinaga’s game is his willingness to cover ground and win the ball. That is exactly what happened in the buildup to Phoenix Rising’s fourth goal.
Aguinaga sprinted out of midfield to pressure an opposing defender, took the ball, started a fast-break, and found Asante on the right side of the attack. Asante’s shot on goal was saved, but Jahn was there to tap in the rebound.
While the game’s first four goals came from open play, the last two were scored from set-pieces. A 17-pass sequence and a cleat to Joey Calistri’s rib cage earned the opportunity for Bakero to score his free kick in the 76th minute.
Finally, on a corner kick in the 84th minute, Dia, Farrell, and Calistri combined to score the sixth and final goal of the evening, mercifully ending the downpour before any of those in the press box headed down to the field.
The word “beatdown” probably gets thrown around too often in sports writing, but the second half of Friday night’s game was a true beatdown. Phoenix Rising created all sorts of problems for Austin’s 4-4-2 defensive shape to deal with, scored from open play, and capitalized on set pieces. Tulsa is going to have their work cut out for them on Saturday to stop Phoenix’s well-rounded attack.
The Final Third:
- With Kevon Lambert coming back (again) from international duty with Jamaica, expect some fierce midfield competition during training sessions. The James Musa/José Aguinaga/Jon Bakero trio has been excellent over the last six weeks, but Lambert is going to make a strong push to get back his spot in the starting eleven. One of those four central midfielders will have to settle into a bench role and frankly, I wouldn’t want to be in Rick Schantz’s shoes when he has to make that decision.
- Friday night’s game left Phoenix Rising with some injury concerns. Adam Jahn, Mustapha Dumbuya, and Joey Calistri all had some sort of knock after the final whistle blew. Those injuries, however minor, could force some squad rotation for Saturday’s game against Tulsa.
- I spent the entire body of this article talking about Phoenix Rising’s attacking play, so it’s way past time for me to give the defensive unit their dues. Phoenix has only allowed three goals in their last seven games. Zac “The Mountain” Lubin summed things up from a defensive perspective after the game on Friday: “we have guys who want to work, who want clean sheets”. Those hard-working defenders are the ones making it possible for their attacking teammates to run rampant.
Thanks for reading this week’s edition of Rising Tactics Recap! Check back later this week for more insight and analysis.