Phoenix Rising FC (7-7-6, 27 pts., 11th in West) vs. Sacramento Republic FC (10-7-5, 35 pts., 5th in West)
8 p.m., Saturday, Phoenix Rising Soccer Complex, Scottsdale
TV: YouTube, YurView Arizona (Cox 4, 1004 HD in Phoenix; Cox 7, 1007 HD in Tucson)
Coming off an unbeaten road trip and earning five of a possible nine points, Phoenix Rising FC returns to the friendly confines of the Phoenix Rising Soccer Complex to take on one of the Western Conference’s top teams in Sacramento Republic FC.
Phoenix Rising comes in on the heels of a 1-1 draw to Orange County SC last Friday night. Chris Cortez scored an early goal in the first half to give Phoenix Rising the early lead. A red card to A.J. Gray, however, left the Firebirds to play with 10 men the entire second half, and Orange County was able to take advantage of the extra man, scoring in the final five minutes of the match to preserve a draw.
Phoenix Rising will not have Gray available for Saturday’s match, but will have the services of defenders Amadou Dia and Doueuegi Mala back after each served a red card suspension. Phoenix Rising will most likely be without the services of striker Didier Drogba, as he is still recovering from a groin injury sustained a couple of weeks ago. Drogba has been seen this week on social media around the streets of London, furthering the speculation he will not be available against Republic FC.
Phoenix Rising will look to Cortez and Jason Johnson to lead the scoring charge Saturday night. Johnson is tied with Drogba for the team lead, with five goals on the season, and Cortez and midfielders Alessandro Riggi and Shaun Wright-Phillips are close behind with two each.
A battle has been brewing in recent weeks as to who will start between the goalposts. Carl Woszczynski has played the past three games in net, allowing just two goals in those contests, all on the road. Josh Cohen has been a stalwart in net for most of the season, but Woszczynski has had the better run of play recently.
Sacramento comes into Saturday’s contest on short rest, fresh off a 2-2 draw with top West contenders Swope Park Rangers. Wilson Kneeshaw scored in the first half, and former Arizona United forward Tyler Blackwood saved Sacramento from defeat with a goal two minutes from stoppage time to earn Sacramento the draw.
For Republic FC, it all starts at the back with former Arizona United and Oklahoma City Energy FC goalkeeper Evan Newton. Newton has conceded just 18 goals and has made 39 saves in the 17 matches played this season, making him one of the league’s top goalkeepers.
Up top, it’s Blackwood and Trevin Caesar leading the attack for Sacramento, each scoring a team-high six goals on the season. Kneeshaw and Sammy Ochoa have also scored five times each, giving Sacramento a potent attack.
Saturday opens a critical three-match homestand for Phoenix Rising, who will face Seattle Sounders 2 on Sept. 2, followed by Orange County on Sept. 6. The Firebirds have a 5-3-1 record at home this season, while Sacramento comes in with a 4-5-2 record away from home.
POSSIBLE STARING XI (4-2-3-1):
D- Mala (R), Ramage, (C), Stewart (C), Dia (L)
DM- Watson, Lambert
MF- Johnson (R), Wright-Phillips (C), Riggi (L)
POSSIBLE RESERVES: GK- Cohen; D- Wakasa, Greer; MF- Hamilton, Timm, Avila; F- Hurlow