As the only team to find victory at Casino Arizona Field during the 2019 regular season, Real Monarchs SLC knows the task that stands before them tonight. Phoenix Rising was the not only the regular season shield winner, they set new records for number of points and goals scored. An extremely potent offense led Soloman Asante (22 goals), Adam Jahn (17 goals) and Junior Flemings (15 goals) was joined by a stout defense led by Zac Lubin (14 clean sheets) Amadou Dia, Doueugui Mala and Joseph Farrell.
So why was a rotated Monarchs squad, with Maikel Chang, Jack Blake, and Kalen Ryden starting on the bench and leading scorer Douglas Martinez ( 17 goals) missing entirely, able to walk away victorious back on October 12th as part of their strong run that lead to Interim Head Coach Jamison Olave being named USL Coach of the Month in October?
To answer that let’s first take a look back at the two teams first regular season meeting at Zions Bank Stadium on May 25th. An unmarked Marcel Silva, who was down on loan from RSL, opened the scoring in the 10th minute with a very short range header off a nice cross from Andrew Brody. Maikel Chang then doubled the lead with another poorly marked shot off a cross from Ricardo Avila. At that point, with the frequently quoted most dangerous lead of 2-0, the Monarchs attempted to rein in the offense and rely upon long passes and quick counter attacks for a home victory.
What they got instead were two quick right-footed goals by Adam Jahn and Jon Bakero to tie the score at 2-2 going into the half in what had been a fairly even match to that point. The second half saw near total domination by the Rising who scored two more right-footed goals by Junior Flemmings and Soloman Assante and ended the match with 53% possession on the road and 62.5% shooting accuracy overall. All three of their leading scorers were involved and found goal.
Like many teams at lower levels, and even a number at the highest level, Phoenix Rising is very momentum driven. They feed off scoring goals and a crowd that is very close to the field in their popup stadium in Scottsdale. They tend to wander at times in tough physical matches with a lot of stop and go action and become frustrated. In addition, they love to score off their right feet. 58 of their 89 goals (65%), and all four of the goals scored in the first meeting, were right-footed compared to 13 left-footed goals, 14 headed goals and 4 by other means. in addition Phoenix scored only 3 goals from direct free kicks during the season and missed 4 of 14 penalty kicks.
In comparison, during the second match at Casino Arizona Field the Monarchs came out with a more defensive approach from the opening whistle with two tight defensive midfielders and relied upon long balls to spring offensive opportunities to Kyle Coffee, their sole forward. More importantly the Monarchs defense cheated heavily toward forcing the Rising into shots off their left feet and their head. Andrew Putna also came up with a couple of nice saves on the few right-footed shots.
As time progressed the Monarchs continued to maintain some influence on the pace and style of the match and frustration emerged leading to dual red cards and a Kyle Coffee headed goal off a set piece in stoppage time for the victory.
An experienced Austin Bold team took a very similar approach last weekend in their quarterfinal against Phoenix in Scottsdale and lost in PKs after 120 scoreless minutes.
Despite the temptation to play open soccer against Phoenix, victory tonight will likely be quite dependent upon their recent three defensive centerback formation and ability to control the momentum and scope of the Phoenix Rising offense. A low scoring match will be a good match for the Monarchs. The match will be streamed live on ESPN+ beginning at 8:30 PM this evening.