Photo courtesy of 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.

Sitting down to write the intro to this article, I was oh-so tempted to type out fifteen “W”s, but I thought better of it because my fingers probably would have gotten tired from hitting the same key over and over again. So instead, I’ll open this week’s Rising Tactics Recap with a notable fact.

After beating Sacramento Republic 2-1 on Friday night and securing their 15th straight win, Phoenix Rising now hold the American soccer record for consecutive wins in a single season.

As it turns out, Phoenix have actually held that record for a few weeks now. The Los Angeles Galaxy’s 15 game win streak from the late 1990’s – which was the run many thought Phoenix needed to top in order to claim American soccer’s consecutive wins title –  was over two seasons.

The Galaxy won six games in a row at the end of the 1997 regular season and started the 1998 season with nine straight wins before losing to the Chicago Fire. Not only did it take LA two seasons to string together 15 wins, but they actually had two playoff losses in the 1997 postseason. A win streak with losses in the middle of it hardly seems like a real win streak.

With that bit of information out about the Galaxy’s streak, Phoenix Rising officially have the longest single season winning streak in recorded American soccer history. Phoenix’s wins haven’t always been pretty (though many of them have), but regardless, they have done something that no other team in their region has done before.

Phoenix’s crazy streak extends beyond USL or any other single league in the United States. In the wake of Major League Soccer’s announcement last week that St. Louis would be the next market to receive an MLS expansion team, Phoenix Rising kept their heads down and etched their names deeper into the American soccer history books.

On Friday night alone, Phoenix Rising extended their own record for consecutive wins to 15, added another win on $1 Beer Night, broke the club record for goals in a single season, and had the highest attendance of any game at Casino Arizona Field so far this season. That is an absurd number of achievements from just one game.

It feels like with every passing victory, this team continues to scoff in the face of mathematical probability. Statistically, the likelihood of winning 15 games in a row is absurdly small. And yet, here we are. Before Phoenix Rising’s game against Sacramento, some members of mainstream USL media predicted that their win streak would come to an end. Frankly, who could blame them?

“The press was saying this was the game we were going to lose and the streak would end,” Rick Schantz said after Friday’s win.

In the latter stages of a taxing season in the middle of the hot Arizona summer, a loss to a quality opponent would have been understandable. But even after Phoenix Rising allowed a Sacramento goal in the second minute as a result of a miscommunication between Joey Farrell and Zac Lubin, the team fought back and re-took the lead before halftime.

“I told the guys at halftime, not tonight. I’m proud of them, they showed a lot of heart tonight,” Schantz continued later.

“I’m thankful that our team is as resilient as we are, and we bounced back within four minutes,” Farrell said. “That’s really a mindset of champions: being able to face adversity and come back with it immediately, and not really fault anyone at any second.”

Sacramento came out with a solid game plan. Schantz summed it up well after the game: Republic head coach Simon Elliott’s game plan was to “kind of press, not really”.

Due to the camera angle at Casino Arizona Field, it’s difficult to find a good visual from the broadcast, but Sacramento Republic defended in a 4-4-1-1 block. Thomas Enevoldsen played behind Cameron Iwasa and often marked Phoenix Rising’s defensive midfielder, Kevon Lambert. With Enevoldsen denying access to Lambert, Phoenix had to figure out other ways to get the ball into the middle of the field and play forward.

When they did play forward into central areas, Sacramento quickly stepped and put pressure on the ball. Elliott’s defensive scheme held Phoenix Rising to only three shots on goal, which is the lowest number of accurate shots that Phoenix have had in any game since the last time that they played Sacramento Republic back in April.

With disciplined defending and a few moments of promising attacking transition, Sacramento made Phoenix sweat on both sides of the ball. After the final whistle blew on Friday, you could almost see relief on the faces of many of Phoenix Rising’s players. Sacramento Republic made them work extremely hard to come away with three points.

“It’s crazy because when you look at it, everyone wants to be that team to say, ‘yeah, we’re the one that ended the streak’,” Junior Flemmings said. “So, they’re going to come out firing.”

With five games coming up over a 19-day period, things are about to get even more difficult for Phoenix. But if we learned anything from this week, it’s this: don’t bet against them.

The Final Third:

  • With only three days of rest between Friday’s matchup with Sacramento and Tuesday’s game against Tacoma, expect to see a significant amount of rotation in Rick Schantz’s starting eleven. There is one change that we already know about: because Doueugui Mala picked up two yellow cards against Sacramento, he will be suspended on Tuesday, so expect AJ Cochran to start at center back alongside Joey Farrell.
  • There are a few other players that could be primed for a rest on Tuesday. Last week, Schantz mentioned Mustapha Dumbuya, Amadou Dia, and Junior Flemmings as three guys who have played a lot of minutes this season. It’s possible that Austin Ledbetter, Kyle Bjornethun, and Joey Calistri could start in place of Dumbuya, Dia, and Flemmings respectively.
  • After playing for FC Tucson over the weekend, Corey Whelan will be a part of Phoenix Rising’s squad for their road trip to Seattle and Colorado. Will he get on the field? Probably not. Regardless, it’s encouraging to see him get closer to competing for a spot in a game day 18-man roster.

Thanks for reading this week’s edition of Rising Tactics Recap! Check back later this week for more insight and analysis.

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