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Four takeaways from Phoenix Rising clash with Pumas Tabasco

Owain Evans Avatar
February 25, 2023

MEXICO CITY — In their final Mexico City friendly, Phoenix Rising picked up another draw as they held Pumas Tabasco to a goalless encounter.

Responses to emotions running high

Sometimes, a “friendly” can look anything but.

Around 15 minutes in, Manuel Arteaga went in late on the Pumas Tabasco goalkeeper. Arteaga was cautioned, and that could have been the end of it. However, around a minute later, things escalated once again and Rising’s forward had a few choice, and loud, words for his opponent.

Soon, that had spilled onto the benches. It isn’t entirely clear what happened, or what the referees believed to have happened, but Rising coach Juan Guerra, Rising’s equipment manager and at least one person from the Pumas Tabasco bench were sent off during a roughly six minute stoppage.

“It wasn’t really a problem,” Guerra said after the match. “It was just emotions got very high.”

Guerra would watch the rest of the match from a raised platform, alongside video analyst Chris Standring who was filming the game.

From there, the game did calm down, though. After the match, Guerra pointed to the emotional challenge as just another part of a “perfect preseason game,” in addition to being tested tactically and physically.

“There was the emotional aspect of the game that demanded the boys stick together and also stay focused and concentrated through a moment that could be a bit turbulent,” Guerra said. “If you ask me, it was a good test for us, and I think we passed it with good grades.”

Emotions boiled over in the first half of Phoenix Rising's clash with Pumas Tabasco

Cuello starting to tire, but continues to impress in midfield

Once again, Emil Cuello played a substantial role in the midfield in a friendly for Rising.

“Emil has done a very good job this preseason,” Guerra said. “This whole preseason, not just today. After a week in the altitude… I think he’s one of the players that has added the most minutes for us in the preseason.”

Those minutes have started to take their toll. Cuello was subbed off in the 51st minute, but had looked to be tiring after the break especially.

Still, that wasn’t before he was able to once again showcase his abilities in the midfield. In the absence of Fede Varela, Cuello helped pull the strings on most attacks which didn’t originate via the wings.

That’s been a pattern of the preseason so far. Despite strong competition, Cuello has staked a serious claim for minutes once the regular season rolls around.

“He’s a true number 10,” Guerra said. “He knows how to float in between lines. Him and Fede are players that are very similar to the way that we want to play.”

Goalkeeping battle still in the balance

On Wednesday against Atlante, Patrick Rakovsky stood in goal for Phoenix Rising. Against Pumas Tabasco, it was Rocco Ríos Novo’s turn.

The Argentinian impressed, making several diving saves to keep the scores even. With both candidates posting solid showings, it still remains to be seen who will be handed the start in Charleston in two weeks’ time.

“It’s been good,” Guerra said. “Two goalkeepers that can play out of the back. Two goalkeepers that are very comfortable with the ball at their feet.

“It’s not surprising to us. We spent hours watching both, and we’re very, very lucky to have both of them. If you ask me, every night I go to sleep, I go to sleep with no worries or no issues with the goalkeeping situation.”

Some struggles playing out of the back

This preseason, Rising has shown no inclination against breaking forward quickly.

It would be unfair to describe that playing style as direct, though. The balls forward are deliberate, rather than the more hoof-like distribution conjured when you describe a direct style of play.

Against Pumas Tabasco, Rising struggled a little with its distribution out of the back. The opposition did not allow Phoenix time on the ball, and so on times the squad struggled to get it out of the back.

“At times, it could have been better, and it should have been better,” Guerra said. “It’s been a week here. It’s been tough. They were pressing really high, and at times, we struggled. We gave the ball away a few times in the second half and if you ask me, I think they should have scored once or twice. It has to be better.”

Earlier in the preseason, Rising has had more success. For now, though, that’s just something that Guerra will look to fix on the training ground.

“I think versus Sporting [Kansas City], we were very clean out of the back,” he said. “The other game on Wednesday, we were also doing a very good job, but this team that high presses and sends a lot of numbers, at times we struggled a bit.”

“But, at the end of the day, when we start finding where the spaces are, if a team is going to high press us like that, we can break the line of press and then attack the space behind, just like we did on Wednesday. When we started doing it [today] in the second half, we really, really hurt them.

Phoenix Rising took on Pumas Tabasco at La Cantera

Follow Owain Evans and PHNX Rising on Twitter for updates from Rising’s Mexico City training camp throughout the week.

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