Phoenix Rising FC (14-7-7, 49 pts., 5th in West) at Sacramento Republic FC (12-10-6, 42 pts., 7th in West)
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Papa Murphy’s Park, Sacramento, Calif.
TV: YouTube, YurView Arizona (Cox 4, 1004 HD in Phoenix; Cox 7, 1007 HD in Tucson)
The hard part of this trip has been taken care of.
Win the first three matches. Check.
Clinch your first-ever playoff berth. Check.
Now there’s a new goal staring Phoenix Rising FC in the face.
Finish in the Top 4 to host a first-round playoff match.
And now comes the part where Phoenix Rising FC crafts the squad it will likely use heading into the playoffs as it tries to complete an undefeated road trip when the team faces Sacramento Republic FC Saturday night at Papa Murphy’s Park in Sacramento.
Phoenix Rising is trying to keep a bunch of streaks going during this match. An 11-match unbeaten streak. A five-match win streak. Four straight clean sheets. And not allowing a goal in over 367 minutes of play.
Phoenix Rising comes in on the heels of a 2-0 win Wednesday night over Portland Timbers 2. Goals from Shaun Wright-Phillips and Jason Johnson were the difference in leading Phoenix Rising to a victory. And again the defense stood tall in not allowing a goal in its fourth straight game. In 19 matches since taking over the club, coach Patrice Carteron’s defense has allowed just 10 goals, en route to a 10-2-7 record.
Johnson’s goal was his 10th of the season, making him only the second player in Phoenix Rising/Arizona United history to score 10 or or more in a season. Long Tan is the only other player to reach that feat, scoring 14 goals in the 2015 season.
Phoenix Rising could see the return of Didier Drogba to the lineup. Drogba hasn’t played significant minutes in almost two months, as his last extended playing time was Aug. 5 against LA Galaxy II. Drogba saw five minutes in the last home game for Phoenix Rising on Sept. 16 against Real Monarchs SLC, but was suspended for the first match of this road trip and has not seen play in the last two matches, most likely due to the team playing on artificial surfaces throughout this trip.
For Phoenix Rising, this game wraps up four matches played in 11 days, and the most important stretch in club history.
Sacramento comes into the match struggling, having lost its last two and going just 2-2-1 since losing 3-1 to Phoenix Rising on Aug. 21. Goals from Johnson, Chris Cortez and Peter Ramage got Phoenix Rising three points in what was the fourth match in the 11-match unbeaten streak.
For Sacramento, the attack will come from Villyan Bijev and Trevin Caesar. Bijev has nine goals on the season, and Caesar has seven. Former Phoenix Rising/Arizona United midfielder Tyler Blackwood has six goals on the season. Samuel Ochoa has six assists on the season, and former Arizona United goalkeeper Evan Newton has been solid between the goalposts for Sacramento despite its recent slide, allowing just 20 goals in 25 appearances this season.
POSSIBLE STARTING LINEUP (4-2-3-1)
D- Vasquez (L), Ramage (C), Stewart (C), Wakasa (R)
DM- Lambert (L), Hamilton (R)
MF- Riggi (L), Wright-Phillips (C), Johnson (R)
POSSIBLE SUBSTITUTES: GK- Berner; D- Mala, Dia; MF- Gavin, Watson, Awako; F- Cortez