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Top two showdown as Monarchs face Phoenix Rising FC tonight

Can the Monarchs extend their unbeaten record at home in Zions Bank Stadium

MLS: 2018 Portraits USA TODAY Sports

Phoenix Rising comes into Zions Bank Stadium tonight looking to avenge an early season loss on their home field and, more importantly, to move into a tie on points with the Monarchs for first place in the Western Conference at 41 points. The Monarchs have struggled in recent matches on the road, but hope that a return to their home pitch where they have posted a 8-0-1 record will enable them to right the ship.

Two weeks ago while on the road at Chukchansi Park, Phoenix suffered their worst defeat of the season in a 4-0 drubbing by Fresno FC. Last week at home in Scottsdale, Rising got back on track with a 1-0 victory over Seattle Sounders 2 DC.

Chris Cortez, a 30-year-old Mexican American who had a short sting with Chivas USA in MLS, leads the Rising offense as a solo striker up top of the 4-1-4-1 formation. His 9 goals lead the team and are also good enough to be tied for 7th overall in USL. He is followed by a flat line of four midfielders/wingers including Jason Johnson and Solomon Assante on the right hand side who have added another 13 goals between them. Assante also leads the league in chances created with 72 so far this season. This gives a strong right hand bias to the Rising attack.

James Musa, who grew up in New Zealand and got a short term call up from Sporting Kansas City toward the end of the 2017 season, plays the important defensive holding role between the two flat lines of four in the Rising formation. Musa is the key connector and his decisions and play determine how much the Rising need to drop a second midfielder back into a more primary defensive role changing the formation to more of a 4-2-3-1 and when they can continue with their preferred five man offensive attack in a 4-1-4-1.

Mike da Fonte, on loan from the Colorado Rapids, has started in all twenty of Phoenix’s matches this season and is the general of the back four from his position on the left of the central defense. Carl Woszczynski has been steady on again in goal and has 8 clean sheets which leaves his just one shy of the league leading mark of 9.

The Monarchs continue to be in good health and have no depth problems beyond the goalkeeper position. Sebastian Velazquez, who scored both of the Monarchs’ goals in the 4-2 loss at San Antonio last week, seems to be on form and ready to lead an attempt to kick start the Monarchs’ goal production back on the home field at Zions Bank Stadium.

Jake Blake and James Moberg both enter the match one caution away from a mandatory suspension which makes the first time this season that a Monarch is in this position. As the Monarchs face a tough short turn around match against Reno 1868 FC next Wednesday we can expect a fair bit of rotation in the lineup once again. A couple of key indicators to look for as the match progresses this evening:

  1. Phoenix Rising likes to keep 5 players, Cortez and a flat line of four midfielders behind him, engaged very high up the field. While they might play back in an attempt to blunt any early offensive from the Monarchs, look for them to try the five man attack early and often. It will be up to the Monarchs to force that swing player back into the defensive side of the field and a partnership with James Musa.
  2. While Sebastian has proven his skill on the ball many times, the team needs him to engage the two wingers and, more importantly, Chandler Hoffman or Juan Mare. Look to see how Sebastian engages the forward three early in the match.
  3. The frequent changes along the back line have begun to catch up with the Monarchs as the lack of experience and playing time together as a unit causes problems. Watch the back four to see how they switch and cover to slow down the potent Phoenix Rising attack.

Join the fun at the beautiful Zions Bank Stadium tonight at 8 PM.