Nov 3, 2023 - News

Phoenix Rising seeks return to championship game in conference final

A man in a soccer jersey and a ballcap speaks to reporters.

Phoenix Rising manager Juan Guerra discusses tomorrow's match. Photo: Jeremy Duda/Axios

Last year was an uncharacteristically down one for the Phoenix Rising FC, but after an offseason overhaul, the Valley's professional soccer team is again making a deep playoff run.

Driving the news: The Rising on Saturday will play the Sacramento Republic FC in the USL Championship Western Conference Final.

  • The game begins at 7pm at Sacramento's Heart Health Park.

Context: Last year, the team missed the playoffs for the first time since 2016 — the year before it clinched its first postseason berth.

  • The Rising made it to the USL championship in 2018, losing to Louisville City FC, and won the Western Conference again in 2020.
  • The 2020 championship game was canceled after several members of the Tampa Bay Rowdies tested positive for COVID-19.

1 big shakeup: The Rising parted ways with manager Rick Schantz midway through the 2022 season and hired former assistant Juan Guerra as his successor.

  • Guerra added 15 new players to the roster for the 2023 season.
  • Phoenix signed forwards Danny Trejo and Manuel Arteaga and traded for forward Dariusz Formella, giving them a formidable lineup of attackers.
  • Trejo's 17 goals this season tied for the third-most in the USL and Arteaga's 15 tied him with two others for sixth-most.

State of play: The Rising took fifth place in the Western Conference during the regular season, with a 12-10-12 record and 48 points.

  • They upset two higher-seeded teams in the playoffs, beating San Diego Loyal FC in the first round and Orange County in the second.

What they're saying: Guerra said the team was "a new project with so many new players" at the start of the season, and they attracted lots of attention and faced pressure from day one.

  • "Before they got on the plane to come to Phoenix, everybody was already asking, 'Who are these guys? How are they going to represent us?'" Guerra told reporters during a press event Thursday. "Now … look where we are. Look what the guys have done. Look how resilient they've been in moments of adversity."

Reality check: Sacramento was the USL's top Western Conference team in the regular season.

  • Last year, Sacramento was runner-up for the U.S. Open Cup, losing to Major League Soccer (MLS) team Orlando City SC.
  • Sacramento beat the Rising 4-0 on the road in July, which Guerra said was the turning point of the season because it showed how the players handled adversity.
  • "How do you bounce back from adversity, how you fight back, how you can push forward when things are not going well is what dictates how far do you make it in anything," he said.

What to watch: If you want to cheer the team on, check out the Rising watch party at Walter Station Brewery near Phoenix Rising Stadium.

  • You can also catch the game on 3TV or ESPN+.

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