Photo courtesy Ashley Orellana / Phoenix Rising FC
PHOENIX – Marcus Epps scored a hat trick while Greg Hurst and Aodhan Quinn also found the net as Phoenix Rising FC closed out its preseason slate with a 5-1 victory against USL League One side FC Tucson on Saturday night at Wild Horse Pass.
FC Tucson opened the scoring in the 12th minute when Danny Bedoya stepped up to take a free kick from just outside the penalty area and bent his right-footed shot over the wall and off the inside of the left post before the ball settled into the net behind Rising FC goalkeeper Ben Lundt.
Rising FC began to take control of possession in the spell that followed and built pressure for several minutes before finally breaking through in the 29th minute. Baboucarr Njie drove down the left side before sending a cross into the area for Greg Hurst, where the Scottish striker redirected the ball past Tucson goalkeeper Carlos Merancio at the near post.
Hurst nearly added a second goal in the 38th minute after Santi Moar and Darnell King combined on the right flank, giving King the chance to cross. The delivery found the head of Hurst, who nodded a shot that caught the outside of the far post. The rebound fell to the feet of Epps, who took his time and calmly picked out the right corner to give Phoenix the lead.
Quinn added a third in the 74th minute as the hosts broke on a counterattack and worked a precise passing combination from Epps on the right, to Moar on the left. Moar put Quinn in on goal with a first-time header and the midfielder finished easily, low to the back post.
Epps then completed his hat trick with two goals in the space of three minutes, the first coming when Moar gained control of the ball in a dangerous spot and waited for a passing lane to open in the 80th minute. Once the defense split, Moar played a pass into space for Epps to finish off. The winger then completed the scoring two minutes later with a deft chip from the top of the penalty area over the goalkeeper.
“All week we worked on transition attack, transition defending, trying to be creative and clinical in the final third,” said Epps. “It means the world to get three goals heading into the season. Hopefully I can translate that into the first game of the year.”
Rising FC had previously defeated Gulf Coast University 3-2 in the opening game of a twin-bill for the hosts as Luis Seijas had a goal and assist before Academy product Tommy Wise scored the winner with 11 minutes to go.
GCU took the lead in the eight minute when Shaun Joash converted from the penalty spot, sending Phoenix goalkeeper Lalo Delgado the opposite way, but Rising FC leveled nine minutes later when Seijas played a ball wide ball to Richmond Antwi. The forward darted towards goal and ripped a shot that caught the inside of the post to the goalkeeper’s right side before caroming across the face of goal and into the far side-netting.
Seijas then found the net himself in the 32nd minute when Rising FC’s high press created a turnover deep in GCU territory. Seijas latched onto the ball, dribbled to the top of the penalty area and picked out the a shot into the far-lower corner.
GCU leveled the game in the 68th minute when a shot from outside the penalty area caught the post to Delgado’s right and rebounded back into the area. Joash was the first to react, hitting a first-time shot past the goalkeeper to tie the game. Phoenix grabbed the winner in the 79th minute, however, as its high pressure again turned over possession in the attacking third of the pitch. Claudio Repetto set up the goal, feinting right before back-heeling a pass into the path of Wise, who finished low into the corner to earn the hosts the win.
“GCU was awesome. They were really organized,” said Rising FC Head Coach Rick Schantz. “We knew they were going to run for days. FC Tucson is still missing a few guys. They had some injuries, but it was a great test for us. There were really good learning moments. I was happy to see Marcus [Epps] score and a few other guys get off to a great start.”