The rebranded Phoenix Rising are entering their fourth season in the USL with a new name, a new stadium in Scottsdale, and a new ownership group looking to find wins in the USL and a possible berth in MLS.
They have already added Omar Bravo, a legend in in Mexican Soccer with Chivas Guadalajara who also spent time with Kansas City in the MLS, and Shaun Wright-Phillips, the older brother of Bradley Wright-Phillips, in an effort to provide more excitement and fill the stands.
After losing their home opener 1-0 to Toronto FC II on an early goal, Phoenix is still looking for their first points of the new season. The Monarchs, however, were 2-1 victors away at Providence Park and will be looking to string two victories together at the start of the new season.
Neither squad has ever finished with a winning record or a playoff berth in USL action. Last season the Monarchs finished with a 10-14-6 record at 11th place in the Western Conference while Arizona United, their name before the rebrand, had a 9-7-14 record in their first year with Frank Yallop as head coach.
Regional rivals both teams are attempt to turn the tables and field squads that can compete week in and week out over the long USL season but in different ways. Phoenix, a team without firm ties to an MLS squad, has elected to bring in big names at what must be substantial cost, while the Monarchs have moved to continue the youth development focus although with some more experienced players.
The Monarchs trail Phoenix in their all time series 2-4-0 although this game will be only the second in Rio Tinto as both home matches in 2016 were played in Orem at the UVU stadium. Both of the Monarch’s victories came in 2015 including the only match at Rio Tinto. As regional rivals they have three matches scheduled in 2017 with matches in June and September at the new stadium in Scottsdale.
It could be argued that Frank Yallop played a major role in leading Phoenix to victories in all three games last year as his experience translated into adjustments during the match and at half life that result in victory despite good efforts by the Monarachs and a better record overall.
With another home game on Thursday against Reno 1868 FC, the Monarchs might easily make some changes from their lineup last Saturday in Portland as they attempt to give more players time and get the entire squad up to full game fitness during the start of the season.
What to watch for
Against Portland the Monarchs were quite successful at playing a high line as demonstrated by the average positions of the starting 11:
Chase Minter (#48) and Max Lachowecki (#47) pushed very high on the left side. Overall the Monarchs had six players with average positions in the offensive half compared to the four for Timbers 2. The intent was demonstrated early at this shot at 0:07 shows
Minter has gone straight into the offensive half despite the lack of any opponent in a effort to provide a quick start to the offense while Hoffman in applying pressure to Rennico Clarke as he attempts to clear the ball. This resulted in a long ball over to top by Clarke.
Orozco has come over to contest the lob with the Williams while Besler and Lachowecki are moving to trap the ball along the sideline.
If the Monarchs are able to play high and force the attack of Phoenix to the sideline again good things should happen. However if the experience of Phoenix comes through and they are forced to defend more in depth against a direct central attack the outcome might be decided on a few plays.
Real Monarchs: (4-2-3-1) Fernandez; Curinga, Peay, Galllagher, Lachowecki; Leal, Adams; Haber, Velasquez, Minter; Hoffman
Timbers 2: (4-1-4-1): Cohen; Vasquez, Ramage, Greer, Wakasa; Watson; Seth, Rooney, Wright-Phillips, Johnson; Bravo
When: Saturday, April 1, 4:00pm MT
Where: Rio Tinto — Sandy, UT
Weather: 56 degrees, Sunny