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Front & Centre: Can New Mexico United Keep Phoenix Rising FC Grounded

By Christopher Walker | Photo: OKC Energy FC

New Mexico United will look to leading goal scorer Chris Wehan to spark the attack tonight against Phoenix Rising FC

A spirited rivalry without a name and a stadium without its raging fans sets up the 2020 edition of Phoenix Rising FC versus New Mexico United on Saturday August 8, 2020. It will be hosted at Casino Arizona Field since New Mexico United, due to the public health order compliance, is still unable to host any fixtures this season at UNM Soccer Complex.

This is the third time each club has faced each other during the USL Championship season and fourth fixture overall across all competitions. 

A Rivalry That Shall Remain Nameless

Perhaps the rivalry lends itself to the close proximity between the sides as it has been mentioned numerous times, as well as, the passion of the fan support on each sideline. Albeit, the fact that United, as an expansion side,  has been able to execute its attack strategy and keep Rising FC’s potent strike shored up seems like a good reason to declare a rivalry. 

Here’s a brief detail of the matches that have brought up to this point in this weekend’s showdown. 

March 17, 2019 at Casino Arizona Field. United led Rising FC 3:2 with goals scored for United by Santi Moar (2) and Kevaughn Frater (1) and for Rising FC by Solomon Asante (2) and Jason Johnson brought the match even by scoring for Rising FC in the 71st minute. The final result was a draw.

May 16, 2019 at Casino Arizona Field. United led Rising FC 2:1 in Added Extra Time at the US Open Cup from a pair of goals (brace) scored by Devon Sandoval. Junior Flemmings did put Rising FC in the scoreline first with an early goal. Adam Jahn scored the equalizing goal to take the fixture to penalty kicks. United advanced to the next round by making 4 of 5 penalty kicks to Rising FC’s 3 of 5 penalty kicks. The result was a draw however, United advanced to the next round by penalty kicks. 

September 28, 2019 at Isotopes Park. United led Rising 2-0 in the first half with goals scored by Devon Sandoval and Justin Schmidt. But, Rising FC found themselves back in the match after late-match heroics by Joey Calistri who scored a pair of goals in the last 20 minutes of regulation. The final result was a draw. 

The all-time record for this series is 0-0-3 (0-0-2 in USL Championship, 0-0-1 in US Open Cup) and leading goal scorers still actively with their respective clubs are United’s Sandoval with 3 goals and Rising FC’s Solomon Asante and Joey Calistri with 2 goals each. 

They Say Less Is Moar

Surely, I thought former United Midfielder Santi Moar would have more uptick in this discussion on Rising FC and United. But given the format of this USL Championship season and Group pairings of the sides, Moar and his former club only play each other once this season. The only other possibility for a second showing would be if both sides appear in the Western Conference Final. 

So this is it for now.  

United fans learned of Santi Moar’s departure from the club on December 3, 2019 by a Twitter post made by Rising FC much ahead of Moar’s own post via Instagram later in the afternoon. So, initially fans had to hear it first in a way that wasn’t personal to them. This announcement didn’t bode well with some of United’s fans who had Moar on the back of their team kits. They love their beloved Moar but, they pondered how he could ship off to the rival, Rising FC. 

This announcement came a month after United announced the re-signing of thirteen initial players. 

Moar was one of United’s leading goal scorers with 11 goals on the season. He had a hot start in 2019, but in 2020 Moar has only started in one match this season and played in three for a total of 93 minutes. He sat out last week due to a second yellow he received in the match against Orange County SC. Moar currently has four shots with only one on frame. 

Another goal scorer for United in 2019 was Chris Wehan. Wehan had 10 goals and 6 assists on the year. He did not score any of the goals against Rising FC. 

Both players, Moar and Wehan, were rookies in 2017. Wehan was named Rookie of the Year and Assists Leader while playing at Reno 1868. 

Now with Moar out in Phoenix, Wehan has emerged as the leading goal scorer for United. He leads the team with 4 goals scored while being tied for goals scored in the Western Conference with four other players. Notable players to mention are Rising FC’s Asante, Flemmings, and newcomer Rufat Dadashov. 

United’s Sandoval has scored 2 goals so far this season. He was out last week and in his absence, Amando Moreno and Joris Ahlinvi each scored their first goal of the season. For United to be an attacking threat, they are going to have to get more players involved in the scoreline whether that be creating chances, making assists, or scoring goals. 

Moar returns to the team from his one-game ban. Will Moar have an impact in today’s match against United? 

Match Preview

Each side comes into this match with a record of 3-1-1 with 10 points on the USL Western Conference Table. Rising FC sits in second place in Group B and United sits in first place in Group C. There is no doubt that each sides’ opponents in their respective Group will have their eyes affixed to the outcome of this match. 

This match fares as one of the league’s best sides in tow with Rising FC, a side with an earmark for talent hosting a budding, second-year United tasting an early rise of success.

United Is Up For The Challenge

If you’ve watched Rising FC’s match against El Paso Locomotive last weekend, you know that their front three consisting of Flemmings, Dadashov, and Asante are dangerous. Locomotive managed to hold Rising to 7 shots, but 2 of those shots were shots just outside the 18 and the other was a penalty kick that was awarded. Locomotive took 23 shots and only managed to come out with 1 goal. 

Rising FC is able to work in tight spaces so if you’re a team that creates a lot of space, they will get in those spaces and step into passing lanes and make it extremely difficult for you to complete successful passes. Considering Locomotive again, a club with a pass accuracy rating in the 80s, Rising FC forced them to make turnovers in their defending half. In addition to operating in tight spaces, Rising FC has pace in and out of possession. Their ability to counter is like no other side in the league. 

Note: In previous matches between United and Rising FC, Rising FC set up in a 4-1-4-1(March), 4-2-3-1(September), and a 4-3-3 formation (Open Cup). The 4-3-3 has seen the most success against United and is what they are set up in now. In order for United to withstand the attack, Technical Director/Head Coach Troy Lesesne would have to line up in a 4-4-2, which offers less space for Rising FC or set efficient offside traps in the 4-2-3-1 formation he has been running all season.

United will have to execute their game plan and minimize errors so as not to create turnovers because Rising FC will take anything you give them. Lesesne won’t focus on trying to contain Asante. 

“It’s a tough task, I think he is a fantastic player and it’s a difficult job to be able to contain him. I don’t think you’re going to contain a guy like that for 90 minutes, Lesesne said. “It’s about trying to eliminate him [from] having a lot of chances at getting going and one way is us in possession. We have to be good in possession from the standpoint that we can’t give away cheap balls in the middle of the field that will allow transition moments, as well as, when we’re in possession, we have to be aware of where Asante is, where Flemmings is, and where Dadashov is in our rest defense. 

Rising FC’s triad also combines for 44 of 84 total shots their team has attempted. Asante has created 17 chances. 

So that’s something we’re gonna try to prepare as best we can for and make sure we’re aware of that going into the match because those guys, as I said, it’s one of the most talented attacking groups in the league.”

Defensive Matchups to Watch:

Flemmings vs. Austin Yearwood and Rashid Tetteh/Muhammad 

Dadashov vs. Kalen Ryden and Rashid Tetteh/Muhammad

Asante vs. Ryden and Josh Suggs

Good Run of Form Lately

Rising FC: Flemmings, Dadashov, Asante

United: Wehan, Sandoval, Parkes, Tinari

The Particulars

New Mexico United vs. Phoenix Rising FC at Casino Arizona Field.

Kickoff is at 8:30 pm MST and is available for Livestream via ESPN+ App (Subscription required). Tune into ESPN 101.7 the Team for the Live Call with Adam Diehl and Andy Hageman.

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