CHARLESTON, S.C. – Phoenix Rising FC rose from the ashes with a 90th-minute equalizer from John Stenberg before claiming victory 3-2 in a penalty shootout after missing its first two shots to win the 2023 USL Championship Final against the Charleston Battery at Patriots Point after the sides had played to a 1-1 draw through regulation and extra time.
The victory gave Phoenix its first USL Championship title in a postseason in which Rising FC had claimed victories on the road in all four contests, a first in USL Championship Playoffs history. The visitors’ shootout victory was the first since Orlando City FC claimed the title in 2011.
It hardly arrived easily, however.
With the chance to shoot first, Rising FC squandered the chance to take the upper hand as Emil Cuello attempted a Panenka from the spot that was claimed by Charleston goalkeeper Trey Muse. After AJ Paterson finished clinically for the Battery, Muse came up big again with a diving save to deny Daniel Krutzen’s shot to the bottom-left corner.
But after the Battery took a two-goal advantage through Augustine Williams, things unraveled for the hosts. Phoenix’s Renzo Zambrano got his side on the board, and Charleston’s Leland Archer shot wide of the left post to cut the deficit. Rising FC’s Erickson Gallardo also converted before teammate Rocco Rios Novo saved Chris Allan’s shot to level the game.
Manuel Arteaga then shot home to the right corner as Muse was just unable to keep his effort out. With the game on the line, Rios Novo came through again, tipping Derek Dodson’s shot onto the left post to give Rising FC the title.
Phoenix Rising FC celebrates winning the 2023 USL Championship Final after a penalty shootout against the Charleston Battery at Patriots Point.
As it had twice previously this postseason, Phoenix had to rally to force extra time. The Battery had opened the game on the front foot in possession and with their defensive pressure and had an appeal for a penalty kick turned down when Nick Markanich turned his defender cleverly on the left before breaking into the box and appeared to be brought down.
Markanich continued to be lively in the attacking third for the Battery, and in the 16th minute almost produced a spectacular finish with a bicycle kick that was blocked at the top of the six-yard area. Twenty minutes later, however, he provided the breakthrough. A precise lifted pass by Emilio Ycaza sent Mark Segbers in behind the Phoenix defense on the left, and his cut-back cross was struck home by Markanich into the right corner of the net.
The Battery almost doubled their lead minutes later as a powerful header by Dodson off a corner kick by Arturo Rodriguez looked goal-bound before Phoenix’s Carlos Harvey deflected it off target as the hosts carried the game’s momentum into the halftime break.
Charleston pressed for a second goal early in the second half, but in the 66th minute Phoenix believed it had found a way back into the game. After a good move on the right side, Harvey got goal-side of his defender, and was initially ruled to have been brought down by Ycaza for a penalty kick. After discussion with his assistant referee, however, center referee Elton Garcia changed his decision to a corner kick, which the Battery cleared.
Rising FC tried to build off its attack, and substitutes Cuello and Gallardo both had efforts from distance, with Gallardo’s forcing a save by Muse. As the visitors pushed forward, the Battery had chances on the counterattack as Rodriguez and Markanich had chances saved by Rios Novo.
But then, in the 90th minute, Phoenix grabbed a lifeline. With numbers pushed up for a set piece, the initial cross from the right sailed over the six-yard area but was retrieved by Mohamed Traore. The left-sided center back produced a fine cross that picked out John Stenberg, who headed home.
After a cagey opening to extra time, Rising FC produced the first serious chance as Gallardo found space to shoot from 25 yards and rifled a shot that was parried by Muse and launched away to safety by his defense. Another effort by Cuello took a deflection off teammate Krutzen following a corner but was snagged by Muse as well.
The Battery began to regain momentum as the second half of extra time began, though. Archer looped a header on target from a free kick in the 108th minute, and less than a minute later Williams headed just over from the top of the six-yard area off an angled cross by Robbie Crawford. Those chances came to naught, however, and thanks to Rios Novo’s heroics the visitors completed their remarkable road run to a title.
USL Championship Final MVP
Rocco Rios Novo, Phoenix Rising FC – The Argentine shot-stopper made a pair of crucial saves in the penalty shootout after a seven-save performance across regulation and extra time to help his side to a historic victory.
CHS – Nick Markanich (Mark Segbers) 36’
PHX – John Stenberg (Mohamed Traore) 90’
Charleston Battery – AJ Paterson, scored; Augustine Williams, scored; Leland Archer, missed; Chris Allan, saved; Derek Dodson, saved
Phoenix Rising FC – Emil Cuello, saved; Daniel Krutzen, saved; Renzo Zambrano, scored; Erickson Gallardo, scored; Manuel Arteaga, scored