TUCSON, Ariz. — The MLS portion of Phoenix Rising FC’s preseason is officially over.
PRFC fell to Colorado Rapids 1-0 on Saturday night at Kino Sports Complex to close out the 2021 Visit Tucson Sun Cup.
The match continued the theme from Rising this preseason, as Phoenix once again struggled to be clinical inside the final third.
“Finishing is the last thing to come,” Phoenix Rising manager Rick Schantz said after the match. “I think Solo (Asante) was a little late into preseason, so he’s just finally getting his legs underneath him. Santi (Moar) was pressing a little bit too much early in preseason, but he’s really coming back into form.”
“Rufat (Dadashov) saves his goals for the season,” Schantz added jokingly — alluding to the Azerbaijani not scoring in last year’s preseason, only to bag a hat trick in the 2020 season opener.
PRFC was able to test the Rapids goalkeeper a few times in the opening 45 minutes, but every shot came from outside the box.
Rising was much better in the second half up front, as PRFC was able to get a few shots off from inside the penalty area, including a disallowed Moar goal after Dadashov’s offside position on the pass was deemed enough to be affecting the play.
But whether it’s being offside, teammates getting in each other’s way or just taking one too many touches, there just seems to be a slight disconnect in the final third. At times — especially along the 18 — a Rising player would receive the ball and control it with his first touch but then take one second too long to play the final ball, which by that time the chance has already gone.
“Wouldn’t serve the ball. We’re kind of lacking that killer instinct right now a little bit, but it’ll come. That’s always the last thing to come in preseason,” Schantz said.
It was a solid performance defensively from Rising on the night despite not being at full strength along the back four, as presumable starting center back James Musa did not make an appearance. The game’s only goal came in the 23rd minute following a free kick that was taken quickly and smashed home at the near post by Colorado winger Michael Barrios.
A look at Michael Barrios’ goal for Colorado.
1-0 #Rapids96 pic.twitter.com/lYxf6CEIYZ
— Jake Anderson (@jwa1994) April 11, 2021
“We had a bad letdown on the goal,” Schantz said. “It was a foul and we were standing around talking to the referee, they played quick and they scored. That’s a lack of discipline and a lack of concentration and that has to get fixed right away.”
PRFC goalkeeper Andre Rawls, center back Joey Farrell, left back Deklyn Wynne, midfielder Aodhan Quinn and Dadashov played the full 90 minutes. Right back Noah Billingsley — who is still technically a trialist — and center back Tobi Adewole came off out of an abundance of caution, but Schantz assured that nobody left Tucson Saturday night with any injuries.
One name that did come on to impress was defender and 16-year-old academy player Niall Dunn. And while he may not be up to speed from a physical standpoint, the teenager’s future in a Rising kit is looking bright.
“Niall is 16 years old,” Schantz said. “He’s played right back, he’s played center back against four MLS teams and he’s handled himself extremely well. … We’re very pleased with Niall’s progression. It’s a marathon, not a sprint for a player like that. He still has a lot to learn and to continue to improve, but I’m very pleased with him.”
The main question now looking ahead is simple: After a poor run offensively this preseason, is there cause for concern that this will carry over to the 2021 USL Championship campaign?
I don’t think it’s time to hit the panic button just yet, as the beginning of last year’s preseason and even the first four regular-season matches of the 2019 campaign weren’t quite the Rising performances we’ve become accustomed to.
However, with the likes of fellow USL Championship sides Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC and New Mexico United coming to Wild Horse Pass the next few weeks, anything but noticeable improvement up front may not bode well for an upcoming gauntlet that will be the 2021 USLC season.
Not to mention that Rising plays San Diego Loyal SC — who PRFC hasn’t been able to truly beat in their last two meetings — and Tampa Bay Rowdies on ESPN2 on Matchday 1 and Matchday 3, respectively.
“It doesn’t matter who we’re playing. You would expect our performance to continue to improve,” Schantz said. “I think the intensity the last two games has been much, much better than what we saw early on in preseason, so that means that the fitness is starting to come.
“But now they have to be able to hold that for 75-90 minutes and then even beyond because we know that when we get into USL regular season, it’s five subs and that’s it. We don’t get to sub 10 guys at the 60th minute or 75th minute. It’s just about getting minutes and making sure everyone’s healthy.”
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