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THE MORNING TEA – Phoenix Players, Coaches Eager for Fans’ Return

By NICHOLAS MURRAY -, 09/10/20, 7:30AM EDT


Las Cruces’ Suggs embraces United experience; Vitiello to get nod for Hounds against Hartford

It won't be this up-close and personal, but Phoenix Rising FC players and coaches are looking forward to welcoming fans back to Casino Arizona Field on Friday night. | Photo courtesy Phoenix Rising FC

Following a packed night of action that saw Indy Eleven return to the top of Group E, and the Western Conference playoff race took some more interesting twists, we start today with one of the notable elements to Friday night’s doubleheader and the return of fans to one of the most raucous venues in the league. Here’s your Morning Tea for Thursday.



Since the Championship season resumed in July, there have been numerous teams safely welcome fans back to their venues with social distancing guidelines and protocols in place to ensure the safety for all those that enter the venue.

On Friday night, Phoenix Rising FC will join their number as the club hosts Las Vegas Lights FC to begin a stretch of four home games in five to conclude the regular season. And for all concerned, it’s a night they can’t wait to be part of.

“Obviously as athletes we love love playing in front of fans because they add so much to the game experience and are huge in getting a result day in and day out,” Rising FC goalkeeper Eric Dick told Cronkite News’ Aaron Bradley James in a text. “This season has been weird because we haven’t been able to play first hand in front of our amazing family out there, and so the fact that we can safely get any number of fans into Casino will just be a huge moment for us as players, them as fans and all of us as a Phoenix Rising family.”

That the reopening of Casino Arizona Field occurs on the first Friday contest of the season for the club this season seems appropriate. Thanks to Dollar Beer Night, kickoffs under the lights to open the weekend have become a tradition in the Valley, with the club having originally scheduled six of its 17 home games to arrive on Friday nights when the original 2020 schedule was released in January.

The game will also serve as the first professional sporting event with fans in attendance in Arizona since the sports world closed down in March. While the 1,000-person cap on attendance might not match the typical atmosphere when a capacity-plus crowd of more than 6,200 fans are on hand, Phoenix Head Coach Rick Schantz is looking forward to seeing some familiar faces on hand in the stands.

“Being the first pro club to have fans [following the shutdown] is something to be proud of,” Schantz told James. “Our players really love the fans. They love the interaction with the fans, and the engagement – as do I.”

Maybe none more so than people like Mon McPherson, who along with husband John will be on hand with other longtime Rising FC fans. With the club prioritizing their longest-tenured season ticket holders – of which Mon is No. 001 – the good times are set to be back, at least in a limited fashion for now.

“We’ve appreciated everything they’ve done away from the field, showing us support via the Zoom watch parties and other methods, but now we get to return to the real deal!” texted Dick to James. “I know they’ve been resting their voices for seven-plus months – can’t wait to hear Casino go off Friday night!”



North Carolina FC vs. Memphis 901 FC

Group G

7:00 p.m. ET |
Venue: Sahlen’s Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park Predictor: NC Wins 54% | Draw 25% | MEM Wins 21%
Group G
The Gist: Both North Carolina FC and Memphis 901 FC are in must-win territory as the meet for the first time this week, with each facing a steep climb to catch the second-placed Charlotte Independence in Group G’s playoff race. NCFC saw the gap to the Independence rise to eight points last Saturday night as it suffered its second defeat to Charlotte this season. The result put added pressure on Head Coach Dave Sarachan’s side to take victory in both of its games in hand on the Independence, or risk falling into even more difficulty in the postseason battle. That Memphis has an even bigger divide to traverse – currently at 11 points after its 1-1 draw with group leader Birmingham Legion FC last Saturday – could be an added difficulty for the hosts, with 901 FC’s season hanging in the balance with six games to go. Nothing less than three points will do, which should result in a high-intensity performance by both sides.
Discipline: Memphis - Dan Metzger (Suspended)




- The Charleston Battery will also have fans on hand at Patriots Points on Friday night for their crucial Group H contest against the Tampa Bay Rowdies, and for the remainder of the 2020 Championship season. 250 tickets have been made available for the game on Friday, with capacity for the games to follow to be determined on a game-by-game basis.

- As a Las Cruces, New Mexico native, Josh Suggs has become one of the faces of New Mexico United in the club’s short history. Suggs’ history with the Championship has been longstanding, recently he became second all-time in the league in regular season minutes, but as he told the Las Cruces Sun-News’ Jason Groves he’s now enjoying the game even more than before as he represents his home state.

- Indy Eleven was without leading scorer Tyler Pasher on Wednesday night, but for the first time since July someone else got onto the scoresheet as Nick Moon and Jeremy Rafanello led the side past Sporting Kansas City II. The Indianapolis Star’s Kevin Johnston has the details on a 2-1 victory that sent Indy back to the top of Group E for the time being.

- Did San Diego Loyal SC’s push to the playoffs start on Wednesday night? Head Coach Landon Donovan’s side produced its best attacking performance of its inaugural season in a 3-0 win against the LA Galaxy II, and also saw Orange County SC drop a lead late to Sacramento Republic FC to leave a two-point gap between San Diego and both Los Dos and OCSC.

- Real Monarchs SLC also are still alive after putting up four goals after going behind early against Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC at Zions Bank Stadium. Noah Powder had a goal and assist for the hosts to keep their chances of catching El Paso Locomotive FC and New Mexico United moving.

- Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC is looking set to keep Danny Vitiello in net this weekend for the club’s key game against Hartford Athletic at Highmark Stadium. Pittsburgh Soccer Now’s Matt Gajtka writes the announcement was made during Head Coach Bob Lilley’s press conference on Wednesday, with the young goalkeeper having recorded three shutouts in four starts this season while backing up Tomas Gomez.

- Louisville City FC Head Coach John Hackworth sat down with WDRB’s Aaron Matas to reflect on the club’s victory against Indy Eleven this past Saturday, and looked ahead to Saturday’s important Kings’ Cup clash with Saint Louis FC at Lynn Family Stadium.

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