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Why it’s one final down, eight to go for Rising FC

By NICHOLAS MURRAY -, 09/01/22, 12:45PM EDT


Phoenix’s victory on Wednesday night didn’t earn silverware, but provided playoff promise

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Every game becomes a final.

“It was pretty much a final,” said Phoenix Rising FC Head Coach Juan Guerra on Wednesday night, shortly after his side had claimed a much-needed 2-1 victory against Rio Grande Valley FC. “We had good conversations with the players the last two days. Before we walked on the field today, we spoke about [the last nine games of this season] every game being a final.”

The thing about finals, though, is they’re definitive. One team wins and lifts a trophy, one team goes home with thoughts of what might have been.

After Wednesday night, Phoenix doesn’t have a piece of silverware.

What it does have is the chance to keep pursuing that goal.

A pair of tallies by Luis Seijas – including a highlight-reel strike in the second half that decided the game at Wild Horse Pass – and a strong defensive stand as the Toros piled on pressure to try and earn a valuable road point moved Rising FC within five points of the playoff places in the Western Conference with eight games to go in its campaign.

With that, the club and its fans have another glimmer of hope that Rising FC’s run of five consecutive postseason berths won’t come to an end this campaign.

Those hopes were raised not only by the result but by a performance that showed more signs of the side’s adaptation to Guerra’s philosophy. Seijas’ opening goal seemed a distillation of those ideas, where the side moved quickly off a free kick in its own half, but patiently enough to open space for Santi Moar to break into space and get onto a through-ball by Baboucarr Njie on the left. The Spaniard’s cross found Seijas for a good headed finish – earning Moar his second assist in as many games – and gave Phoenix the lead in the 15th minute.

If Seijas’ first goal since May 15 against the Tampa Bay Rowdies was good, the second that restored the side’s lead after a defensive miscue late in the first half showed the quality Phoenix is capable of. Aodhan Quinn looked to have found a dead-end surrounded by three Toros players outside the penalty area, but an inventive backheel found Seijas in space for a precise left-footed strike from 25 yards that picked out the bottom-right corner.

“Mentally [tonight’s win] means the world to us,” said Seijas. “We’ve been struggling the past few months and for the group, for our families, for the club, for the owners, for Juan and his first win at home, it is huge. It was awesome, especially for me. Scoring two goals, it’s been a long way, I think since Miami [on April 23].”

Phoenix Rising FC's Luis Seijas celebrates during his two-goal performance that led his side to a crucial 2-1 victory on Wednesday night against Rio Grande Valley FC. | Photo courtesy Ashley Orellana / Phoenix Rising FC

The night wasn’t without a few of the glitches that have seen Phoenix in the middle of a playoff battle rather than its more familiar position in recent seasons of competing for top spot. The miscommunication between goalkeeper Ben Lundt and defender James Musa that giftwrapped a third goal in as many games for the Toros’ Christian Pinzon was a ghastly error, although one Lundt made up for with a final crucial save on Pinzon in stoppage time to preserve the win.

Ironing out those issues is going to be as important for Guerra as implementing his philosophy with a visit to Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC on Saturday night another crucial step in the club’s pathway to a postseason berth.

After the high of claiming his first win at the helm in front of the supporters that have welcomed his return to the club, Guerra was quick to remind everyone of the stakes that game – and those that will follow over the final weeks of the regular season – holds.

“Tonight was massive, but we cannot get too happy about it,” said Guerra. “We have another final in three days.”

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