Solomon Asante has powered Phoenix behind his league-leading marks in goals (22) and assists (15). / (Photo by Isaiah J. Downing/Switchbacks FC)
FRESNO, Calif. - Los Zorros (15-5-8, 53pts), hot off their biggest win in club history, look to keep the momentum rolling against Phoenix Rising FC on Saturday, in a clash featuring the two best teams in the Western Conference. Phoenix (22-2-5, 71pts) has already clinched the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference playoffs, and are aiming for its 21st straight victory when it comes to Chukchansi Park. Fresno, who played Phoenix to a 0-0 draw on the road earlier this season and lead the overall series at 1W-0L-2D, looks to end that streak on its home field, where Los Zorros are 9-1-4 and unbeaten in their last 10 games. The scoreless draw also saw Fresno defend with a 10-man side for 50 minutes after midfielder Seth Moses was sent off at the 40th. Leading the way for Phoenix is MVP candidate Solomon Asante. Asante's 22 goals and 15 assists are highest in the league in both categories. Asante's goal tally combined with Adam Jahn's 15, are a USL Championship season record for the most by a pair of teammates at 37. Defensively, Phoenix holds the best defensive record in the West, conceding 26 goals in 29 matches, compared to Fresno's 31 in 28 games. Phoenix has faced more shots than Fresno, 117 to 101, but have collected more clean sheets in that process, at 14 overall.
The last time these two sides played at Chukchansi Park, Fresno FC won 4-0 on goals from Christian Chaney, Pedro Ribeiro, Juan Pablo Caffa, and Jemal Johnson.
The Foxes are stalking their first playoff spot in franchise history and could clinch as early as Saturday, Sept. 21st, with 3 points against Phoenix. If the Foxes take a point from the contest, they can still get into the playoffs if either San Antonio or Austin fail to take victory. With a loss Saturday, Fresno can still clinch should one or both of SAFC or Bold FC lose and the Portland Timbers 2 fail to take victory against Tacoma Defiance.
Fresno is 9-1-4 at Chukchansi Park in 2019 and unbeaten in its last 10 matches at home. Fresno won five in a row at home for the first time in club history from May 22 to August 3, 2019.
Fresno FC GM Frank Yallop is responsible for providing opportunities for the three-most successful coaches in the USL Western Conference this season. Yallop hired Fresno FC head coach at the end of 2017, hired assistant coach Rick Schantz while he was Director of Soccer Operations at Phoenix Rising FC in 2016, and hired player-turned-coach Ian Russell as an assistant to the MLS San Jose Earthquakes in 2008. Yallop also drafted Phoenix forward Adam Jahn when he was GM of the San Jose Earthquakes in the first round of the 2013 MLS Supplemental Draft.
Los Zorros beat RGVFC, 5-0, on Wednesday to secure their largest win in club history. It was also the first time Fresno FC has received multiple goals from two players, with forwards Jaime Chavez and Qudus Lawal each scoring two goals. Chavez now is tied for the club record for most goals in a regular season at 11 in 2019, level with Juan Pablo Caffa and Jemal Johnson who each netted 11 in 2018. Forward Qudus Lawal increased his tally to nine goals and became the first Fresno FC player to score three or more braces in a regular season.
Twenty of the Foxes' 51 goals this season have come from set pieces. Breaking it down even further, that's seven from corner kicks, six from indirect free kicks, one direct free kick, and six penalties. Six of those corner-kick goals have come in the last half of the regular season,
Jemal Johnson is two goals away from scoring 50 in his professional career. He has seven this season and 18 overall since he signed with Los Zorros in 2018 for a career total of 48.
Juan Caffa's 52 chances created are most on the club and seventh-most in the West.
Center back Ramon Martin Del Campo and goalkeeper CJ Cochran are the only players to have not missed a single minute of action for Fresno FC in 2019. The two have started every USL Championship match for Los Zorros, racking up a total of 2,520 minutes each.
HEAD COACH ADAM SMITH
"Wednesday was a must-win game and we did that. Now, I think, going into tomorrow the guys can enjoy the moment. I won't have to get them upbeat for this game. They're pumped themselves. It's two top teams going against each other and we'd like to be that team to break their winning streak. We're going to give it everything we got and enjoy the moment. The pressure is on Phoenix. They're a team that hasn't done quite well away from home. They've won games, but it's been more of a struggle. We won't take anything for granted, but the pressure is on them."