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Three questions about Phoenix Rising

We caught up with PHNX Sports to get some insight into Wednesday’s opponent.

Last Updated
4 min read

The klieg lights of Starfire Stadium shine brightly on Wednesday night. As the hopes for a strong regular season continue to shrink, the U.S. Open Cup is an appealing target for those who like trophies with long histories.

Next up is Phoenix Rising (4-4-3, +1 for 5th in the USL Championship West) on Wednesday night at 7:30 pm PDT on and the US Soccer YouTube channel.

Rising’s path to the Round of 16 was a 2-1 AET victory at North Carolina FC. Like Seattle they entered in the Round of 32. The Sounders beat USL-C giants Louisville City in the 8th round of penalties with goalkeeper Andrew Thomas saving a kick and immediately following that by converting the winning kick on his own.

Phoenix made the USL Championship playoffs six of the last seven seasons, winning the title and the shield once each. They also made two other finals. They have not yet made the Open Cup quarterfinals.

There is no bracket for the quarterfinals. A draw will take place on Thursday when the eight winners will find out their next opponent and venue.

Answering Three Questions for PHNX Sports is Owain.

SaH: Once upon a time Phoenix Rising had one of the best attacks in the nation. Who can support Remi Cabral on Wednesday night?

PHNX: This isn’t quite the fearsome Rising attack of old that would put up four goals while barely breaking a sweat, but there are still some dangerous pieces in there. Panos Armenakas can prove instrumental in a creative role. His acquisition from Loudoun was a huge part of Rising’s success in the second half of last season, but he’s struggled to consistently get back to his peak since suffering an injury in the playoffs. Emil Cuello, who will come in rested after limited minutes on the weekend, is someone that’s shown he can provide a goal threat out of nowhere in big matches. You may be expecting to see Dariusz Formella on this list too, but the backup center forward has missed the last few games on paternity leave and his return to the squad is only being described as coming “soon.”

Alternatively, look to Giulio Doratiotto from the midfield. He’ll be coming in mostly rested after a brief cameo on Saturday, but in the weeks before his 20th birthday, the young Italian has really shown what he’s capable of. Expect him to be a little more forward thinking than some of Rising’s other options in the middle of the park, while also looking to add to his first two professional goals scored earlier this month. He’s still a little raw, but recently we’ve started to see what led Rising to send a delegation of three to Italy in November to capture the Juventus product’s signature.

Cabral has six goals on the year. Varela has two. Five other players have a single goal. Rising’s 13 goals in 11 league matches is middle of the road in the USL Championship.

SaH: After a rough start, Rising came together and went on a run. What’s been the key to them playing at their best with only one loss in the last seven matches?

PHNX: There are a few factors in this. The squad has inched closer to full fitness after preseason injuries to key players like Alejandro Fuenmayor and captain John Stenberg. They've had to adapt to new additions, but also the departure of midfield engine Carlos Harvey and two legitimate golden boot contenders in Danny Trejo and Manuel Arteaga. The latter issue has been helped out by Remi Cabral's goalscoring form, as he found the net six times in a five games stretch starting from the beginning of April.

Beyond that, there’s also a degree of head coach Danny Stone getting himself used to this new role. Maybe it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that Juan Guerra left in the offseason, as Houston weren’t the only team that came in trying to tempt him away. That said, his departure ultimately came after the vast majority of recruitment was finished, just shy of players reporting for preseason and happened very, very quickly. Stone may be the continuity candidate of sorts having been promoted from within, but coaches don’t tend to do well when they try to act as a carbon copy of their predecessor, and he was always going to need time to work out how to get this squad playing how he wants them to.

The most common formation Phoenix has used, per FB Ref, during their successful run is a 3-2-4-1 with Cabral one of the dual 10s. That's a shape that allows some danger wide, but packs the middle.

SaH: Does Phoenix play a style that will convert to the smaller confines of Starfire Stadium?

PHNX: Those who followed Tacoma Defiance in their USL days will remember the aggressive style of play that was then-head coach Rick Schantz’s trademark with Phoenix Rising. They’re just not that direct any more, as Juan Guerra transitioned the side into one more focused on possessing the ball and Danny Stone has not fundamentally changed that foundation. Yes, they are going to look for Remi Cabral to find spaces in behind. Yes, they utilize their wide players a lot in buildups. Yes, they will look to move the ball side-to-side in order to open up gaps. But they aren’t a side that will pump long ball after long ball over the top, and while there is pace in this squad, they haven’t necessarily used it as frequently as they could have this season.

It’s also worth adding that USL is very much not MLS. Conditions are often not ideal. Multiple teams cram fields into baseball stadiums. Others play on relatively poor quality turf and just over a week ago, Rising was able to enjoy the Keyworth Stadium experience of having solid walls around two yards from the touchline. These players are used to having to adapt to circumstances that challenge, and in the first months of Danny Stone’s tenure as head coach, I think we’ve seen someone who is willing to adapt to the particulars of the given game, rather than stick too dogmatically to his default.

Keyworth is only 65 yards wide, or so, and has even narrower margins than Starfire which is 110 by 70. Field size and quality in the USL is much more variable than in MLS.

There’s no reverse, but there’s great Phoenix Rising content on their blog and YouTube.