Phoenix Rising FC produced two phenomenal performances in Week 9 of the 2018 USL regular season as the club tripled its all-time win total in the state of Oklahoma with two road victories that came by a combined margin of 8-1. In taking a 3-0 victory against OKC Energy FC last Wednesday night and then backing that up with a 5-1 win against Tulsa Roughnecks FC the side kept pace at the top of the Western Conference standings with defending USL Regular Season champion Real Monarchs SLC.
But there was so much more to the victories than just the dominant scorelines. Here are five key areas across both games where Phoenix shone the most.
In its most dominant shooting performance of the league this season, Phoenix Rising FC managed 30 shots in its match against Tulsa Roughnecks FC on Saturday night, eight more than its previous high against the LA Galaxy II in its 4-3 victory on May 4. Only the New York Red Bulls II's 32-shot outing against Toronto FC II on the opening day of the regular season surpassed Phoenix's total against Tulsa, which also saw the visitors hold a 12-1 advantage in shots on target.
That stunning shooting performance followed up from a display on Wednesday that had 18 shots, which would ordinarily have been a stunning performance. Impressive in the match against OKC on Wednesday Phoenix managed a 10-0 lead on shots on target, holding Energy FC without a shot on target and managing a shooting accuracy of 55.6 percent.
Most interesting in Phoenix’s shooting performance was how spread out the shooting was, with 12 of the shots coming from outside the penalty area and 18 from inside. Of the 12 shots on target, there was an even split between shots inside and outside the box. But those shots did not just come in one part of the pitch, with the shot map showing they came from all areas, highlighting the diversity of weapons Phoenix has to attack with.
That diversity has helped Rising FC develop an unpredictable offense that has already seen 10 different players find the net this season, leaving opponent unable to key on specific attacking elements as they face Phoenix's talented lineup.
Phoenix has been one of the strongest sides in the air this season, sitting third in the league in aerial duels won with 202, and that proficiency in winning battles came through in both of its games during the trip.
In its game against Energy FC last Wednesday the side produced what was cumulatively its best aerial performance of the season against the directness of OKC's attack. Rising FC managed to win 29 aerial duels, its highest total in a single game this season, at a success rate of 55.8 percent.
Against the Roughnecks, the volume decreased in a different style of contest, but Rising FC's success rate increased to 67.7 percent of aerial duels. That helped mitigate Phoenix losing the overall duels battle at 48 percent, as by winning the second ball from the game's aerial duels Phoenix was able to dictate how the play would start and thus set up more opportunities.
One statistic where Phoenix leads the league is crossing accuracy, managing an average through the season of 33.92 percent, but in both of last week's games the side surpassed that mark handily as players like Alessandro Riggi – who recorded two assists against Energy FC from wide areas – and Amadou Dia – who had three successful crosses, two key passes and one assist against the Roughnecks – came to the fore.
That success against OKC came in spite of the fact that Rising FC recorded half as many crosses as Energy FC, but by completing 60 percent of its 15 crosses for the game the side was able to create consistent chances from wide positions. Against Tulsa, Phoenix managed a 55.6 percent crossing accuracy rate, again well ahead of its average for the season. That is what pushed such a big scoreline, something shown in Dia’s cross that led to the fifth and final goal for the visitors as he found forward Chris Cortez for a headed finish to seal the match.
It may seem odd to mention possession here as Phoenix actually lost possession in both matches, holding a slim deficit at 47.4 percent against OKC and 48 percent against Tulsa, but those numbers help highlight how effectively Phoenix uses possession and how that fuels its attacking moves.
As has been common elsewhere in the global game, efficiency has become the watchword, and Phoenix definitely highlighted this last week. Despite losing the possession battle, the Rising FC attack moved swiftly to get into the attacking half, giving opposing defenses less time to recover position and in turn opening up chances to deliver the key pass or cross for a scoring opportunity.
One thing that can often get lost in such a strong offensive performance is how strong a team’s defensive display has been, but in holding both Energy FC and the Roughnecks to a combined one shot on goal over the two outings Phoenix also excelled throughout the midfield and backline in both contests. Particularly impressive was its efficiency rate in winning possession against the Roughnecks, when it recorded an 81.8 percent tackling accuracy rate. Phoenix was active defensively all over the park, with the visitors starting those defensive efforts in the attacking third with midfielder Collin Fernandez especially active as he won three tackles and recorded eight ball recoveries, seven of which game in the middle third of the field.
With players like Kevon Lambert also putting in strong work centrally for Rising FC – the Jamaican leads Phoenix with 61 recoveries and 20 tackles won this season – the club's midfield can be difficult to navigate before an opponent gets to the back line.
With a big match against Sacramento Republic FC coming up on Saturday, a side that has similar midfield traits thanks to the likes of Jeremy Hall and Adam Moffatt, Rising FC will need to be strong again, taking on a team that has scored 14 goals, more than OKC and Tulsa combined. In a top-three Western Conference matchup, however, Phoenix can be confident in its attack, which leads the league in goals with 22, which should set up a thrilling match at the Phoenix Rising Soccer Complex.