Irvine, Calif. – Phoenix Rising continued its preseason this week with a Friday scrimmage against Orange County Soccer Club. This would be the Rising’s only preseason match against another USL opponent.
Both teams fielded strong starting lineups. OCSC manager Logan Pause put goalkeeper Charlie Lyon, midielder Victor Pineda and defenders Beto Navarro, Richard Chaplow and Oscar Sorto in his starting XI. Rising FC manager Frank Yallop started defenders JJ Greer, Peter Ramage, Jordan Stewart, midfielders Luke Rooney and Alessandro Riggi, striker Omar Bravo, and goalkeeper Carl Woszczynski.
Game Recap: The teams felt each other out for the first 10 minutes. OCSC then opened the scoring on an own goal. OC played the counter, and a long ball bounced between the right back and Woszczynski. The touch back to Woszczynski was heavy, going over his head and into the goal.
The early lead played into OCSC’s hands, as several offseason signings helped bolster its defense. All game, OCSC’s back four blocked shots and intercepted key passes. When pressed into action, Lyon was sharp. The midfield tried to use its physicality to kill attacks from Phoenix Rising, with some success. Phoenix Rising settled into the game though, and executed several nice passing sequences.
Late in the first half, Phoenix Rising created three excellent scoring chances. The first came in the 36th minute, when Riggi put Matt Watson through on the right wing. Watson then cut the ball back for Bravo, whose curling shot hit the side netting and narrowly missed the goal. Six minutes later, Watson again made his presence felt. His ball found Bravo from 10 yards out. Bravo didn’t get an ideal first touch, but Lyon still made an impressive save by coming out to block Bravo’s chip attempt. Bravo then volleyed a sweet left-footed rebound shot that was somehow cleared off the line by Chaplow.
OCSC nearly doubled its lead in first-half added time when the refs awarded a dubious penalty, but Woszczynski guessed the right way, and the attempt clanged off the right post.
Yallop made a couple of halftime substitutions, notably bringing on Matt Harlow and Shaun Wright-Phillips. However, OCSC scored two goals in the first 10 minutes to seal the game. In the 48th minute, an OC midfielder shot from 25 yards. It was a fairly harmless effort, but Woszczynski misjudged it and the ball bounced off his gloves and into the net. Insult was added five minutes later when OC added a third goal. OCSC had one of its few sustained attacks in the match, and a cross was slotted in at the back post. The goalscorer appeared to be offside, but the goal stood.
After that stretch of play, Phoenix Rising had control of its passing game with Harlow and Wright-Phillips being key in their roles. OCSC was content to sit back on defense and let Phoenix Rising come to them. The strategy worked, as OCSC recorded its third straight preseason shutout. However, the Rising played entertaining football in the final 30 minutes. There were at least five instances where a key through ball was just intercepted, a promising shot was blocked, or a dangerous cross skidded across the face of goal. The final score was 3-0, but there definitely were more positives than negatives from this match.
Positive Takeaways: Bravo got into goal-scoring positions, Riggi showed strength on the ball, Wright-Phillips is amazing in possession and with distribution, Rooney and Watson can create scoring chances, and Ramage is communicating well at center back.
Negative Takeaways: Woszczynski had an off game, the referees were in preseason form, and many guys aren’t quite thinking on the same page yet.
Conclusion: In an away scrimmage against a 2016 USL playoff team, Phoenix Rising had nearly 60 percent possession, better passing, and more shots on goal. More importantly, the new signings were given 55 minutes to play together, improve their fitness, and establish chemistry. If Phoenix Rising plays that style all season, the goals and wins will come.
Quotes from Riggi:
“It wasn’t the best result. It must be tough for fans, but we are really here for fitness. We had no tactics, no chemistry for this game, and a lot of us have only been together for a few weeks.”
“It’s the players we have, we like to move the ball a lot. We’ve been working on that.”
On excitement for opening night:
“The new stadium looks great. We’re trying to be ready for it.”