On Saturday, February 10th Phoenix Rising opened up their preseason with a match against MLS giants, New York Red Bulls. Head Coach Patrice Cateron looked to integrate some of his new signings and returning players in the match.
In the first half, Phoenix had strong performances from the likes of Jason Johnson, Kevon Lambert, Collin Fernandez, and Amadou Dia.
Johnson made his presence felt early by beating his man and whipping in crosses. However, his defensive output paid diffidence in the 7th minute as he won the ball back in the Red Bull’s half and quickly gave it up to Gladson Awako. Awako looked for a return ball to the Jamaican left winger, but instead, the ball was deflected in the back of the net resulting in an own goal against New York.
With both clubs having chances in the first half, poor marking on a cross led to Phoenix conceding in the 37th minute, via an Alex Muyl header.
Also in the first half, Collin Fernandez and Kevon Lambert were a joy to watch in the midfield. Lambert brought the strength and intensity winning the ball back multiple times, while Fernandez was excellent in distributing the ball and even beat his man on a few occasions.
Amadou Dia had a terrific game at left back. Dia really did it all in the first half as he won the ball back multiple times and beat his man down the left on a number of occasions which relieved some pressure that New York was putting on Phoenix when they would press.
Overall the first half was a good one for Phoenix, as it was 1-1 heading into the second half. They played well under pressure and never gave the ball away in their defensive third when the Red Bulls would press.
Going directly to Drogba instead of playing from the back could benefit Phoenix when they come up against a team that plays on a higher level and likes to press.
The second half saw a host of changes including new signings, Kevaughn Frater and Devin Vega, who contributed to Phoenix’s second goal. The goal came from good wing play from Billy Forbes who showed great directness and pace throughout the second half.
Forbes laid the ball off for Devin Vega who sprayed it out to the right and received it back inside the right side of his box. Vega delivered a low cross which found Frater for a tap-in.
Unfourtantly for Phoenix they conceded two cheap goals in the last two minutes. The first came from Vincent Bezecourt in the 91st minute, who sliced through the Phoenix defense too easily.
Less than a minute later and Phoenix had conceded a free kick on the edge of the box. The ball was teed up for Fidel Escobar who rifled it into the back of the net with the last kick of the game, ending in a 3-2 defeat for Phoenix.
Conceding two goals in the last minute is unacceptable, but thankfully this was only a preseason game, and not a regular season or playoff game. They will have more time to practice closing out games in their preseason.
Overall Phoenix can be pleased with their first game of the season, in which many new signings impressed. Picking a man of the match is difficult in a match like this where there were two separate groups of players playing in the first and second halves. However, I was really impressed by Kevon Lambert’s performance, as he was exceptional in every department.
He was winning the ball back in his defensive third but also in New York’s own half. His passes were simple and quick but effective. He never dwelled on the ball and looked for his midfield partner, Collin Fernandez. He also did a great job in protecting the back line, and his work rate was outstanding for the first Preseason game.
When watching the game I thought Jason Johnson was the only outlet ball for Phoenix when they were looking to clear their lines and counter quickly with a ball over the top. Johnson was the furthest forward often due to Drogba dropping deep to help out the midfield when New York piled on the pressure.
That’s why a 4-4-2 may be a good look for Phoenix to try in the upcoming preseason matches. Partnering Drogba and Johnson up top could be deadly on the counter-attack, with Johnson’s pace in behind and Drogba’s great holdup play, Phoenix could be deadly on the counter.
There next game will be an intriguing one as they face MLS side, Colorado Rapids. If they continue to grow from these preseason games against MLS sides then we should see great progress this season from this Phoenix side.