Phoenix Rising FC games are known for having a loose and exciting atmosphere. From their famous one dollar beer nights to the noise emanating from the two supporters groups, Casino Arizona Field is a tough place for any opponent to come in and steal a point.
On Saturday night, you could sense the tension in the air until it gave way to jubilation in second-half stoppage time. After heading into the 90’ tied at two goals, the floodgates burst open as Phoenix scored twice in quick succession to put the game away as they defeated Timbers 2 four to two.
Cristian Ojeda scored his first goal in green and gold, but it was Rising FC’s Amadou Dia who’s brace helped his team extend their league-leading winning streak to eight games.
Solomon Asante PK (31’)
After a relatively back and forth opening thirty minutes, the hosts took the lead after a foul inside the box by Foster Langsdorf led to a converted penalty.
Phoenix was able to break the T2 defense with a direct ball over the top to the right flank. The ball was passed centrally where Asante slipped a through ball to Mustapha Dumbuya who collided with Langsdorf in the box. Asante stepped up to the spot and calmly converted, giving Phoenix the opening goal.
Cristian Ojeda (37’)
Just minutes after conceding first, T2 found themselves back in the game. Much like the Phoenix goal, it started with a deep and direct ball hit from the midfield. Carlos Anguiano received the ball and pinged the ball downfield. Rising FC keeper, Zac Lubin, made a mess of it and could not secure the loose ball. T2 bounced on the opportunity as the ball eventually worked its way back towards Ojeda who had his first shot saved before scoring on the rebound.
The goal is Ojeda’s first for T2 and he nearly added a second at the end of the game. Ojeda is currently on loan from Argentina and trains with the Argentinian U-20 team.
Brayan Hurtado (49’)
After a lackluster first half, the tempo started to pick up in the second half, and T2 capitalized right away. Langsdorf starts the play by making a long run down the left sideline (bodying off an opponent in the process) before playing a give and go and taking a shot. The original shot was blocked, but the deflection landed in the path of Hurtado who tucked the ball into the back of the net, giving the visitors the lead.
Amadou Dia (62’)
In the 62’, momentum started to shift back towards Rising FC. Sometimes in tough games, all a team needs is a moment of individual skill and brilliance, and Phoenix received that through Dia.
Dia received the ball on the left flank before twisting and turning through the T2 defense and finishing past Ivacic. It was a tough goal, but one that helps swing momentum and will surely be up for goal of the week.
Amadou Dia (90+4’)
Just as it looked destined that both teams would split the points, Dia sunk a dagger into the hearts of T2 players and fans. While the game was supposed to end after three minutes of stoppage-time, a Marco Farfan injury added a few extra minutes and that turned out to be the difference.
With time running out, Asante pulled a Virgil Van Dijk and put a hopeful lofted ball into the box, hoping that something would happen. As it so happens, Dia was able to outjump the two T2 defenders marking him and nodded the ball into the goal. With the brace, Dia became the first defender to net a brace in Rising FC history.
Solomon Asante PK (90+7’)
Just minutes after conceding the winner, T2 gave up yet another penalty. This time it was Max Ornstil who put in a careless challenge in the box. Asante was called on to take the penalty, and he left no doubts with another greatly taken penalty.
Breaking down the defense
Throughout Rising FC’s eight-game winning streak, the one constant has been the defense. Over the past month and a half, they have given up just four goals (six with Saturday’s game is included). If T2 wanted to stay in the game, they needed to find a way to break down the stingy defense.
Phoenix seemed to emphasize cutting off T2’s wing options while allowing them more space to exploit down the middle.
With the team’s best midfielders, such as Marvin Loria and Eryk Williamson, currently playing with the first team, the Timbers sorely lacked some of that creativity that they needed to break the defense down.
Despite having the middle available to attack through, T2 continued to advance the ball out wide and it mostly worked. It can be argued that this defensive gameplan was the best one to use regardless of giving up the goals, but it also acts as a testament to T2’s offense who have scored the most goals against Rising FC since the Real Monarchs hung two goals on them over a month ago.
Execution and focus needs to improve
T2 ended up playing a pretty complete game of soccer and probably deserved at least a point out of Saturday nights game. Instead, they lost by two goals that were absolute sucker-punches.
Yes, this is only the USL Championship and sure, impactful players such as Loria, Williamson, and Zambrano are currently on the first team, but if this team wants to maintain its place in the standings, it cannot afford to let results like these slip, even on the road.
Timbers coach Gio Savarese likes to preach mentality and that is something that this team still needs to work on. They’re having one of their best seasons ever, but it could be even better had they not dropped points due to two stoppage-time goals, or had they not switched off in key moments in a 2-2 draw against mid-table Austin Bold FC.
Focus and execution are two terms that can go together and something that T2 needs to work on. Most of the time they are switched on (that’s why they are still near the top of the west), but it is at those times where they momentarily switch off and lose focus that they make their biggest mistakes. If T2 can continue to put together consistent 90-minute stretches, then they should be back in the playoffs come the end of the season.
Effectiveness with the ball and weathering the storm
Very few teams this season have come into a game against T2 and handled them the way that Phoenix Rising FC did to them on Saturday night, at least possession-wise anyways.
Phoenix held 60.4 percent of the possession, outshot T2 27(11)-10(2), and finished with 19 shots inside the box. They outpassed T2 473-318 and sent in 20 more crosses (24 to four). If you just looked at the box score, then this result would make sense.
However, if you watched the game, the two teams didn’t seem to have that big of a chasm between them. T2 was in a position to get a road point in Phoenix because they were clinical with their opportunities and just got unlucky late. Being in that position isn’t luck; it shows that the team is growing. Sure this team won’t press high every game or continuously look to transition, but they will play their game and they are pretty good at it. While these shooting and passing discrepancies are worrying and shouldn’t be something that they want to face on a game by game basis, being able to grow and develop in a game like this is important in preparing a team for that next step. T2 is slowly getting there.
Bonus: Ivacic is getting better game by game
Normally I only have three takeaways for each game. However, I had to make an exception this week as T2 goalkeeper, Aljaz Ivacic, played a great game.
Recently I highlighted Kendall McIntosh’s performance against Austin Bold FC. While Ivacic didn’t pull out those type of shot-stopping skills in this game, he played smart. His distribution was pretty good all game and once or twice he used his cannon of an arm to spring a teammate near midfield. Ivacic finished with seven saves while facing 27 shots. He was where he needed to be and was confident. It’s easy to see that he is growing more and more comfortable and, if he can string together a few more performances like Saturday night’s, he will be ready to compete with Jeff Atinella and Steve Clark for minutes on the first team.
Saturday night’s loss is a difficult one to swallow. T2 had a point in their hands late and watched it slip away. A draw would have helped them in the standings and if the team ends the season needing just a point, it’s a game that the players and fans will look back at and rue.
Luckily, in the short term, T2 can put this game in the rear view mirror. They will be back in action again on July 6 at home when they take on the Tulsa Roughnecks. And after picking up just five out of the available twelve points at Providence Park this season, a home win on Saturday will be a boon for the Timbers as they look to stay near the top of the western conference.
“The guys are hungry to show what they’re capable of, with the way that they can play together and the results that they can get,” coach Cameron Knowles said after the game. “I think when we look at this in the context of it now being the halfway point of the season; then we’ve performed really, really well.”
“We just need to recover and hit the reset button and attack the second half of the season with the same vigor that we’ve done in the first half.”