Photo courtesy of Phoenix Rising FC
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – With new Phoenix Rising FC signing and Chelsea legend Didier Drogba on hand, his future teammates delivered a lasting impression on what he can look forward to Sunday at a sold-out Phoenix Rising Soccer Complex. Rising FC tallied three goals in a five-minute span in the opening half and ended up hanging on for a 4-3 victory against the last team carrying a perfect record this season, the Swope Park Rangers, in front of a sellout crowd of 7,162. Alessandro Riggi, Luke Rooney and Chris Cortez scored a goal apiece from the 23rd through 27th minutes, and Rooney added a crucial corner kick assist to Peter Ramage’s 47th-minute score as Phoenix won its second straight. The club did have to play the remaining 12 minutes and change down a man as Kody Wakasa was sent off for a foul in the box as the last defender against Swope Park’s attack. Phoenix improves to 2-2-0 (6 points) this season. The Rangers entered the game one win away from matching the USL record of eight consecutive regular-season wins held by Orlando City SC’s 2014 team. The Rangers saw the extension of that seven-game winning streak come to a close quickly, or so it seemed. Kevin Oliveira sprung some life into the Rangers' offense as he converted a 79th-minute penalty kick and then added a goal in the 90th minute. Swope Park captain Christian Duke got into the scoring act with a long-distance, second-half stoppage time tally to make things interesting, but the visiting side would end up one goal short. They are now 3-1-0 (9 points) overall.
23’ – PHX – Alessandro Riggi
25’ – PHX – Luke Rooney (penalty)
27’ – PHX – Chris Cortez
47’ – PHX – Peter Ramage (Luke Rooney)
79’ – SPR – Kevin Oliveira (penalty)
90’ – SPR – Kevin Oliveira (Colton Storm)
90’+3 – SPR – Christian Duke
Three Things That Mattered:
1. Phoenix put together one of the strongest scoring stretches among any USL team this season with three tallies in approximately a five-minute span midway through the first half. They pressured Swope Park in a number of ways. Alessandro Riggi was strong on the dribble all half, and he cut to his right and fired inside the far right post for the opening goal in the 23rd minute. Chris Cortez drew a penalty kick against 22-year-old Swope Park goalkeeper David Greczek, who made his first start. Luke Rooney drove a low left-footed shot past the diving Greczek for a 2-0 lead in the 25th minute. Then Cortez had some space to work with in the 27th minute and delivered a bending ball inside the far left post for a three-goal cushion.
2. Head Coach Nikola Popovic wasted no time making some heavy changes after a first-half hydration break. In the 34th minute, down three goals, Popovic brought in 2015 USL Rookie of the Year Kharlton Belmar and Kevin Oliveira to replace Robert Mirosavic and Felipe Hernandez, respectively. Of those changes, Oliveira had the most impact with his corner kick deliveries toward the end of the opening half to try and set up Erik Palmer-Brown on a couple of occasions. Oliveira also had a dangerous free kick headed toward the left of the frame about 20 minutes into the second half. The final 15 minutes of the match then belonged completely to Oliveira, who put the Rangers in the book with a late penalty kick conversion, a right-footed strike inside the right of the frame in the 79th minute. Then 11 minutes later, Oliveira's stepover created enough of an opening to find the back of the net in the run of play just before second-half stoppage time.
3. Rising FC held a ceremony to welcome its newest signing Didier Drogba, who was not an available playing option Sunday against the Rangers. The former Chelsea star arrived at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport on Friday night. Drogba drew some social media traction Sunday when he joked on social media that he would be on a short-term loan with Chelsea on May 27 to help his former side defeat Arsenal FC in the FA Cup final. Drogba is eager to get onto the pitch for Phoenix, saying during the pregame: “I want to train. I want to play. I haven’t been playing for almost five months, since last December, so I’ll need some time to get ready. But once I’m ready, I will push.”
USLSoccer.com Man of the Match:
Luke Rooney, Phoenix Rising FC – Rooney converted a penalty kick, set up Peter Ramage’s tally - which proved to be the game-winner - and distributed well throughout the game as Rising FC.
Phoenix Rising FC vs. Reno 1868 FC – May 6, 10:30 p.m. ET, Phoenix Rising Soccer Complex
Swope Park Rangers at Real Monarchs SLC – April 29, 6 p.m. ET, Rio Tinto Stadium