As Phoenix Rising FC (2-2-0) look ahead to Saturday night’s visit from Reno 1868 FC (0-3-2), two main plots stick out.
First (and foremost, if we’re honest): Will Didier Drogba play? According to Phoenix interim Head Coach Rick Schantz in an interview with Firebird Rising’s Jeff Wendt, “Most likely he won’t see the team this week, but maybe next week or the week after we’ll start to transition him into the roster.”
The 39-year-old striker has been in Phoenix for nearly two weeks, but has not played in a competitive match since September 28, 2016.
That leads to plot #2. The opponent is expansion side Reno 1868, who, despite boasting an experienced roster of known USL producers, have yet to put together the pieces required for a first win. The visitors have come close, though.
On April 6th, 1868 FC went to Utah and stormed back from 3-0 down at table-top contenders Real Monarchs, before eventually falling in a 5-3 thriller. Then on the 22nd, Head Coach Ian Russell’s men were mere seconds away from treating the home faithful at Greater Nevada Field to their first victory, when Colorado Springs’ Shane Malcolm buried a stoppage-time equalizer.
Harrah’s should change its name to the Heartbreak Hotel and Casino.
With no league match on its schedule this past weekend, the Biggest Little Club in the USL has had plenty of time to brood on their missed opportunity, and will not be easy pickings for the hometown Firebirds.
Reno features a hybrid MLS affiliation. The business operations, as well as those of sister club Reno Aces of AAA baseball’s Pacific Coast League, are owned by Indiana real estate magnate Herb Simon. The soccer side of the club however, is deeply partnered with Major League Soccer’s San Jose Earthquakes, where Russell won two MLS Cups as a player, and served as assistant coach from 2008 through 2016.
The 1868 attack is led by the USL’s all-time leading scorer, Dane Kelly, and also boasts Salvadoran international Junior Burgos, as well as heralded 2017 MLS Superdraft selection Jackson Yueill, on loan from San Jose. In goal for Reno is Valley native and RSL Academy product Matt Bersano, also on loan from San Jose.
Bersano is tied for 6th in the USL with 16 saves, likely consistent with a team that has allowed 14 goals across just five contests thus far in 2017. Rising FC will be looking to attack early and often, as they did two weeks ago against Swope Park Rangers, and not let up.
The visitors from Kansas City enjoyed a mighty shift of momentum in the 78th minute when Kody Wakasa was sent off for innocuous contact deemed to have denied a goal-scoring opportunity, leading to the first of Swope Park’s three comeback goals. Wakasa will be unavailable against Reno as a result, and should Schantz opt to continue with the 4-1-3-2 that was so successful against Swope Park and LA, right back could be filled by AJ Gray or Victor Vasquez.
Phoenix added three midfielders to its roster ahead of last weekend’s friendly in Tucson: Eder Arreola, Jordan Gibbons, and longtime MLS veteran Eric Avila. It is not yet known what roles, if any, the signings will play this weekend.
The match kicks off at 7:30pm PDT Saturday. It will be broadcast in the Phoenix area by YurView Arizona, and streamed for free at the Match Center on USLSoccer.com.
Phoenix Rising FC (2-2-0) vs Reno 1868 FC (0-3-2)
May 6, 2017
Phoenix Rising Soccer Complex