By Josh Kaskinen and Chris Walker | Photo: Phoenix Rising FC
As Chris pointed out in his match preview, this particular regional rivalry between Phoenix Rising FC and New Mexico United has yet to be named, and I think we’re doing a great disservice to these two highly competitive squads by not referring to these matches with some sort of catchy moniker.
Other regional matchups within the USL Championship have great names. New Mexico has the RioGranDerby with El Paso, Oklahoma City and Tulsa have the Black Gold Derby for their in-state rivalry, and my personal favorite, the LIPAFC (Louisville-Indianapolis Proximity Association Football Contest). Obviously, these derby names should come about organically, and maybe someone more clever than myself could offer some suggestions, but certainly, we can think of something, right? Desert Derby? Gadsden Purchase Derby? There’s a name for this thing out there somewhere, we just have to find it.
Experiment Gone Awry
The most noticeable thing about this game tactically was the fact that wing-backs Josh Suggs and Saalih Muhammad were playing very far forward, leaving Rashid Tetteh, Kalen Ryden, and Austin Yearwood to fend for themselves on the backline. While I appreciate seeing the team try something different in an attempt to create more offense (and I do think the potential to do so is there with that formation), I would have rather seen the traditional four men back against this high powered Rising offense.
It was extremely apparent on Junior Flemmings first goal when an errant pass in the midfield led to a counter-attack from Rising, and Tetteh was left to scramble back, resulting in the easy goal. In my opinion, Rising has too many talented offensive players, such as Flemmings, Asante, Dadashov, and Moar to let the backline scramble and suffer. It seemed as though this adjustment affected other parts of the defensive game as well, such as on the Rising set piece on the lead up to the A.J. Cochran goal. No one marked the big defender, and the closest New Mexico player to him was the diminutive Andrew Tinari.
The Score Was Rising
You know the scoreline at this point, 5-2 Rising FC over United. Flemmings led all Rising scorers with a hat trick (17’, 73’, 86’).
Two things could have turned this result on its head. Romeo Parkes being fouled in the box. The referee continued play, but this is possibly a 2-0 scoreline. Suggs’ pass to Juan Pablo Guzman led to Flemmings’ first goal of the night as Jon Bakero recovers the bad pass and sends it up ahead of Flemmings and it’s 1-1.
The chances created were rising by the moment. Rising created 19 to United’s 15 and really prior to Tinari’s goal, the run of play was non stop on each end. You had the feeling that either team was going to score, but Rising’s odds were higher because of how often they were crashing the box. Three of the five goals were one-timers perfectly timed. – CW
Let’s Go Streaking!
While midfielder Chris Wehan’s scoring streak may have ended at 4 matches, another United streak has started. It’s the second week that a newcomer has scored a goal and multiples at that. Parkes and midfielder Tinari kept this match interesting before Rising FC ultimately ran away with it by way of a Flemmings Hat Trick.
The last time a team scored 5 goals on United was August 24, 2020, against San Antonio st Toyota Field. If I can jog your memory, San Antonio took an angular approach to goal scoring and got hot at 45 degrees from outside the 18. So since then, it’s been 15 match days including the play-in that United has not allowed5 goals to be scored against them in a match. The only other two teams to scores 5 goals on United were Las Vegas Lights (June 15) and Minnesota United FC (July 10). – CW
The First of Many to Come
The caption on an Instagram post by Parkes. Goals followed by front handsprings rounded off by backflips? We’ll take it. Parkes is the only player on United’s squad with a marquee celebration.
This is the sequence that precedes the celebration: Midfielder Amando Moreno gets the ball off a pass across the plain and sees Parkes striding down the central lane of the attacking half. Moreno sends a cross with just enough draw to Parkes. While Parkes is in the air, he realizes that Rising FC’s Zac Lubin is off his line and he heads the balls for the score. Parkes also had the option to put the ball down, but the percentage to make that shot would have been even higher than what he attempted. The visual was picture perfect and Moreno picks up his second assist of the season.
You knew it was only a matter of time. We have seen Parkes the winger hold up play, body opponents, distribute the ball, and now we have seen a glimpse of what the Rovers enjoyed at the Showgrounds last season. The excitement that we’re all experiencing through our TVs. – CW
Does Wehan Know The Candy Man?
We all like candy. It was Kevaughn Frater who said it best last season in a press conference as Little Miss asked Frater a question. She said, “What’s it like to score goals? Frater said ‘It’s like getting a piece of candy and we all like candy’ as she smiled and giggled.
But as you reach for the last piece of candy is your lonely candy dish, reach for the remote instead. Wehan has been an informal leader on the pitch directing traffic in this match and the one prior in at OKC. Moreno, Parkes, and Tinari have scored. It’s as if Wehan has been anticipating the moment for some time now. This team is playing United soccer and as more goals are bagged into the nets, it’s just as sweet as candy. – CW
Despite the scoreline and the eye test that told us that United was clearly outmatched by Rising FC in this one, there were a couple of players that stood out. Yearwood, for example, seemed to thrive in that role as an offensive-minded wing-back on the right side. He had around 60 touches throughout the night, recording an 89.7% passing accuracy and winning 5 duels. He will be a player to keep an eye on if he continues in that role as the season progresses. The other player that I noticed all evening was Tinari. He was everywhere on the pitch and the ball seemed to be glued to his feet. Just look at this touchmap:
Tinari completed 70 passes at 90% accuracy, including 8 long passes. He won six duels and even contributed on defense, recording three tackles and one blocked shot. When the new guys are not only finding their role on the squad, but acting as leaders on the pitch and dictating much of the offense, it’s a great sign of things to come.
Seek & Strike Man of the Match
Fan Player Ratings
Media Player Ratings
What’s up with the goofy stuff that happens when United plays at Casino Arizona Field? In the U.S. Open Cup last year, the lights went out for several minutes. On Saturday, the sprinklers on the field started up in the second half. Say what you will about playing in a baseball stadium, but at least we keep the lights on.
Bandidos Don’t Ask
Rising supporters, The Bandidos, were present at the match on Saturday. Not physically inside the match, but in the general area where the Porta-Johns are. I have one person that I (CW) banter with and he said that a Rising official offered the troupe water and even beers. You have to give them credit for showing up for a rivalry match.
At the end of day, yes, this loss stung, but all hope is not lost. United still sits atop Group C with ten points, while El Paso Locomotive FC is closing in with eight points. Those two teams can create separation from the rest of the group with several upcoming matches with Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC and Real Monarchs SLC. Yes, dropping a match to Phoenix Rising FC will never be fun, but making a push toward the playoffs is much more important. If New Mexico United can iron out a few wrinkles, perhaps a postseason rematch will be that much sweeter.