Déjà vu for Phoenix Rising FC in Week 2 home opener


(Northeast Valley News/Jake Anderson)

Jake Anderson, Reporter

Phoenix Rising FC’s home opener on Saturday ended in a 3-3 draw to USL Championship newcomers New Mexico United.

It was the second consecutive week in which Rising FC came back from three one-goal deficits to capture a point.

Rising FC manager Rick Schantz also made three changes to his starting XI. Center backs Tristian Blackmon and A.J. Cochran replaced Doueugui Mala and Lamar Batista.

“I thought against San Antonio we really struggled with (number) 10’s running through,” Schantz said.

“It wasn’t about the number of goals. It was about how we handled the San Antonio game. Tonight the two center backs were fantastic. Tristian (Blackmon) and A.J. (Cochran) on the ball are great. Tristian physically is very good. We like him a lot. A.J. is strong.”

The third different starter was Javi Perez who replaced James Musa and played a holding, distributing role, allowing midfielders Kevon Lambert and Jose Aguinaga to push up.

“Javi is a Spanish (number) six,” Schantz said.

“He’s really, really good on the ball. His forward penetrating passes are fantastic and I love that about him. Javi didn’t cost us any goals tonight. He really helped us in the offensive game moving the ball forward.”

Both sides were coming in off of Week 1 draws, but Phoenix looked the favorite after an impressive three-goal offensive performance away to San Antonio FC.

But the game is not played on paper and NM United proved that early on.

In the 16th minute, United midfielder Santi Moar hit a curling shot from the edge of the box that found its way into the top corner, leaving PRFC goalkeeper Carl Woszczynski no chance.

Phoenix would go on to create chances, but almost every Rising FC shot seemed to be right at the New Mexico goalkeeper.

The match was briefly brought level after PRFC captain Soloman Asante converted from the penalty spot in the 29th minute.

Phoenix’s celebrations quickly came to a hault as NM United got its lead back just as quickly as it lost it. Former Rising FC forward Kevaughn Frater, who started in place of the injured Chris Cortez in last season’s USL Cup Final, made his return to Phoenix known as he hit a low, hovering line drive shot passed Woszczynski to give New Mexico its one goal advantage back.

Although United took a 2-1 lead into halftime, PRFC were knocking on the door after a plethora of attacks went begging, including a disallowed goal for offside following a missed punch from the New Mexico goalkeeper.

Asante would bring the match level again just three minutes into the second half on yet another penalty.

“I know how to (take penalties) very well,” Asante said. “I’ve been practicing it on the training ground, so I know how to shoot very well.”

The deadlock wouldn’t last long, though, as a New Mexico counter attack ended with another Moar goal, this time from just outside the box along the ground into the bottom corner passed the diving Woszczynski.

Phoenix continued to attack New Mexico United, asking questions of the goalkeeper and defense.

In the 61st minute, Schantz brought on forward Jason Johnson for midfielder Aguinaga, resulting in Junior Flemmings switching to right wing and bringing Asante into a more central role.

“We’ve been practicing this on the training ground,” Asante said.

“Sometimes I’ll start on the right wing and then by the end of training, they bring me inside. I’m a very good passer. It’s easy for me.”

In what seemed to be a replay of Week 1, substitute Johnson scored on a header from the penalty area on a cross from fellow Jamaican Flemmings.

In the final minutes of the 90, Asante whipped in a cross from a set piece that found the head of Cochran around the six-yard area, but the debutant’s attempt to put his side ahead went over the bar, bringing the match to its final scoreline of 3-3.

Phoenix Rising FC will see the first two games of the 2019 campaign as bittersweet.

“We are doing well on the training ground,” Asante said.

“Working very hard each and every day. But it’s not enough because we score but then they score on us so it’s not enough. I think we need to do more on defense.”

While the team is firing on all cylinders with six goals, the defense has been shaky at the back, conceding just as many goals as they’ve scored.

“We know we can score goals,” Schantz said.

“We know we can attack, but we’re leaking goals right now. We just continue to make defensive mistakes. Yeah we’re playing a little bit risky trying to score goals, but we have to be better. We’re making really, really bad mental mistakes and we’re getting bailed out just by the fact that we have good individual offensive players. It’s frustrating because you put in a good enough performance and you just give away points.

“We had some more goals on the table but you can’t expect to score four or five and to win all the time. We’ve scored six goals in two games and we should have six points, but we’ve given up six goals.”

To the credit of Schantz’s side, all three New Mexico goals were top class finishes, all from outside of the box. However, aside from United capitalizing on almost all of their chances, Phoenix Rising FC were clearly the more dangerous side throughout the entirety of the game.

“Those guys scored some unbelievable goals and sometimes you just gotta tip your cap,” Schantz said.

It will be interesting to see what the back four will look like going forward. Schantz has started four center backs in two games but has kept his fullbacks the same (Amadou Dia and Mustapha Dumbuya).

The PRFC manager will have two weeks to decide his next starting XI, as the international break will pause USL Championship play until March 30, when Phoenix hosts Colorado Springs Switchbacks at 7:30 p.m. at Casino Arizona Field.