Phoenix Rising FC (16-8-7, 55 pts., 5th in West) vs. Portland Timbers 2 (3-22-6, 15 pts., 15th in West)
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Phoenix Rising Soccer Complex, Scottsdale
TV: YouTube, YurView Arizona (Cox 4, 1004 HD in Phoenix; Cox 7, 1007 HD in Tucson)
Phoenix Rising FC has only one way to finish in the top four in the Western Conference and host Swope Park Rangers in the first round of the USL Playoffs next week.
That’s to defeat Portland Timbers 2 by nine goals Saturday night at the Phoenix Rising Soccer Complex.
Tall task to ask for.
But a win to finish the season would give Phoenix a club-record 17 wins on the season and momentum heading into the playoffs.
Phoenix is in a tough position going into this game. Do you play your regulars and run the risk of injury or do you run out a roster of players that need some playing time to be fit and ready to go for the playoffs?
Do you send out Jason Johnson to try and set the club record for goals in a season? Johnson has 13, and is one goal shy of tying the club record of 14 by Long Tan, set in 2015.
Do you send out the USL’s September Player of the Month in goalkeeper Josh Cohen or do you give Carl Woszczynski a chance to get his form ready for the playoffs?
It’s a tough decision that coach Patrice Carteron has on his hands, and one that he and the coaching staff has been working on all week.
When Swope Park and San Antonio earned wins on Wednesday night, it may have made the coaching staff’s decision easier as to who to play in an almost meaningless match.
Portland is not a team to take lightly, as is evidenced by its match on Wednesday against San Antonio FC. Even though San Antonio took the early lead from Ever Guzman, it was a Bill Poni Tuiloma goal that kept Portland in the match. But a second half goal from Ryan Roushandel gave San Antonio the points it needed to stay in the top 4.
Two of Portland’s three wins have come away from home this season. It’s last win came on Sept. 30 at Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2, and is 1-6-3 in its last 10 matches. Victor Arboleda leads the team with four goals, and Tuiloma and Max Ornstil each have three. And despite the goals conceded on the season, Kendall McIntosh has proven to be a solid goalkeeper.
The two teams met Sept. 27 in Portland as Phoenix Rising was wrapping up its Cascadia road trip. Shawn Wright-Phillips and Johnson scored in the 2-0 victory that qualified Phoenix Rising for the playoffs for the first time in the club’s history.
POSSIBLE STARTING XI (4-2-3-1)
D- Vasquez (L), Mala (C), Ramage (C), Wakasa (R)
DM- Gavin (L), Timm (R)
MF- Dia (L), Awako (C), Avila (R)
POSSIBLE SUBSTITUTES: GK- Cohen; D- Gibbons, Greer; MF- Gray, Hernandez, Johnson; F- Cortez