All eyes on Vegas: Phoenix Rising look to build after back-to-back losses

Phoenix Rising winger Panos Armenakas dribbles past a Seattle defender in the U.S. Open Cup Round of 16. Las Vegas is next for Rising, who went winless on their recent roadtrip. (Photo courtesy of Phoenix Rising)

PHOENIX – Under the lights Saturday night, Phoenix Rising will have an opportunity to reach third place in the 12-team Western Conference.

The matchup against the Las Vegas Lights comes as Phoenix rides a two-game losing streak during a three-game road trip. The back-to-back losses dropped Phoenix to 1-2-2 away from home.

Despite the results, the team’s overall performance against two top sides has the team and coach Danny Stone feeling good going into this week’s matchup.

“There is a combination of frustration and no satisfaction, but at the same time a very together group and a good spirit amongst them,” Stone said. “What I feel this week is a group that says, moving forward we have more to get now. We have more to go after now. We are not satisfied. We now push together, and we push further.”

The trip featured two big-time matchups, starting with the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup round of 16 matchup against MLS side Seattle Sounders.

The defending USL champions fell to the two-time MLS Cup winners in heartbreaking fashion. After taking a lead off Rémi Cabral’s penalty to end the half, Phoenix saw its quarterfinal dreams a half away. But in the 88th minute, Seattle’s Kalani Kossa-Rienzi put away the game-winning goal, sending the four-time U.S. Open Cup winners into the quarterfinal.

“I’m disappointed that we weren’t at the very least able to take that to extra time,” Stone said to reporters after the game. “I felt the game was a pretty even one for over 90 minutes… I’m disappointed for the team, I felt they were outstanding in many ways tonight.”

(Video by Phoenix Rising Football Club)

The loss for Phoenix was its first in five matches, sending the team with an uncommon feeling headed into its matchup with Indy Eleven.

In Indianapolis, Rising fans watched a sequel of the movie they just experienced in Seattle. Not one they wanted to repeat.

José Hernández bagged his first goal of the season for Phoenix in the 19th minute. Indianapolis’ Jack Blake then gave Phoenix the same treatment Seattle delivered two days earlier, scoring a game-winner in the second half, his second of the game.

The 2-1 loss came against the third place team in the Eastern Conference, who has won every game in May. Although another tough loss was hard to swallow, Rising put out a good performance, with something to build on moving forward.

“I was again pleased with how we managed the game,” Stone said. “I felt we controlled the tempo and the flow of the game…We feel like we should have come away with that then a little more than we did.”

Going forward, Rising looks to build off the positions they were in over the previous week, learning how to improve where they struggled.

The two goals from Indy Eleven came off set pieces, a result of Rising players committing fouls in their own half. This is an area that needs improvement, Stone emphasized.

“It’s a little bit of a mentality to say less,” Stone said. “To make sure we don’t let ourselves down with moments of lack of concentration, or momentary mistakes that can be avoided.”

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As they look to improve on their narrow losses, the Rising know the next opponent is one who isn’t quite on the same run of form as Indianapolis.

The Lights sit in 10th place, four points behind Rising. They are desperate for a victory, as they haven’t won since April 17 against Spokane.

The matchup will bring up memories of last year’s thriller, when Rising came back to score two goals in the final 10 minutes to secure three points. Many Rising fans will remember that game, as it was their annual season ticket members trip, just as it is this week.

“It makes a massive, massive difference,” Stone said. “Whether it is eight or 10 people, or 100, 200, 300 or more people who travel. It’s an incredible thing to have as an organization. I’m really pleased we are going to have that backing and that support with us this weekend.”

Phoenix will look to recapture some of that magic in front of its traveling fans, and earn a result after a tough start to its road trip.

Saturday night’s game is the first of an all important five fixtures in June for Rising.

“Right now as a group, we are pushing each other, but we don’t feel like we are in a bad place,” Stone said. “We have an important month here in June. We have some difficult games, but we don’t really look beyond this weekend. We know it is an important game where we will have good support with us.”

Sports Digital Reporter, Phoenix

Jack Reeves expects to graduate in August 2024 with a master’s degree in sports journalism. He previously graduated in May 2023 from the University of Northern Iowa with a bachelor’s degree in sports public relations.