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How Phoenix Rising earned a bounce-back victory in Rhode Island

By NICHOLAS MURRAY -, 04/26/24, 9:52PM EDT


Emil Cuello’s tone-setting shift, Rocco Ríos Novo’s penalty save play key roles in victory for defending title holders

Phoenix Rising FC rebounded from defeat last weekend with a 3-1 victory against Rhode Island FC on Friday night as Rémi Cabral notched his second two-goal outing of the campaign to kick off Week 8 at Beirne Stadium.

Here are three things we took away from the contest, which saw the defending USL Championship title holders hand Rhode Island only its second defeat of the campaign.

1. Emil Cuello set the tone, made case for more starts

Phoenix shuffled the deck extensively after defeat last time out as Head Coach Danny Stone made seven changes to the starting lineup looking for a spark. He got one from Emil Cuello, who got just his second start this season and provided the energy and an assist on the opening goal that set Rising up for a successful cross-country trip.

The 27-year-old was active as Phoenix looked to apply defensive pressure across its front line and after missing out on a chance himself when the visitors turned possession over in the attacking third, shooting tamely from 20 yards, he came through with a great challenge to win possession from Rhode Island’s Frank Nodarse and provide a perfect cross for Rémi Cabral to tuck home from close range.

Cuello kept up that defensive work before coming off midway through the second half having won a team-high 8 of 10 overall duels and recorded two tackles and two interceptions. The Argentine has been a supporting cast member in Phoenix so far, making only five starts last season. This performance should have put him in the frame for a bigger role moving forward.

2. Rising’s Rocco Ríos Novo is brimming with confidence

Phoenix Rising FC's Rocco Ríos Novo is the first goalkeeper to record multiple penalty kick saves this season in the USL Championship. | Photo courtesy Ron Cournoyer / Rhode Island FC

The thing you have to love about Rising goalkeeper Rocco Ríos Novo is his confidence. Watch the moments leading up to him having to face 2023 Championship Player of the Year and Golden Boot winner Albert Dikwa from the penalty spot – the smile on the Argentine’s face tells you something. That he then went on to make the save amplifies it.

Ríos Novo has now saved two of the three penalty kicks he’s faced this season. He’s also saved 5 of 14 penalties he’s faced in the Championship’s regular season overall, which has him tied for third-most in the Championship’s available records. Add in his heroics in last year’s Championship Final against the Charleston Battery, and even with his late brain-fart that led to Rhode Island’s only goal, you’ve got a 21-year-old goalkeeper who’s fully coming into his own before our eyes.

3. Rhode Island made to pay for lapses

As there have been this season, there were positives for Rhode Island to take from their performance. The side was punished harshly for its lapses in concentration, however, first on Phoenix’s second goal when missed attempts to break up the play simply gave Rising more time and space, resulting in Cabral’s brace, and then by Fede Varela when it looked like Rhode Island had grabbed a lifeline with a minute to go by conceding 78 seconds later as Phoenix iced the game.

In contrast to that, when RIFC mounted pressure, it was faced by a red wall of resistance that aside from Albert Dikwa’s saved penalty kick and Clay Holstad’s inventive indirect free kick finish gave the hosts little to work with. Rhode Island had seven of its 16 shots blocked and only hit the target three times. This looks like a solid team, but it’s going to have to be better in key moments to get the rewards it wants.

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