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Cortez Puts the Pieces Together for Phoenix

By NICHOLAS MURRAY -, 08/27/17, 12:01PM EDT


Rising FC forward mitigates Drogba’s absence in win vs. Republic FC

Photo courtesy Michael Rincon / Phoenix Rising FC

PHOENIX – After making his return to the Phoenix Rising FC starting lineup a little less than a month ago, forward Chris Cortez is hitting his stride at just the right moment for the club’s push to the postseason.

After a goal and two assists on Saturday night in a big 3-1 victory against Sacramento Republic FC at the Phoenix Rising Soccer Complex, the veteran forward appears to have found his comfort zone leading the Rising FC line as it enters a key stage of the season.

“Everything is all healthy, you know?” said Cortez. “It’s just that things tend to click the more and more you play together. … Working on patterns and different things and stuff like that and training together with everyone and then playing being able to play in games is kind of that final product, and I think this kind of sums that all up.”

After a pair of frustrating draws in the club’s last two outings, Cortez’s second goal in as many games set the stage for Rising FC to earn a victory as it ran its undefeated streak to four. A flicked header from Shaun Wright-Phillips’ perfectly-placed corner kick from the right highlighted the 6-foot-2 striker’s aerial ability.

“Excellent delivery, it made my life really easy all I have to do was glance a header in,” said Cortez. “It’s tons of pace and exactly right on my head so I don’t have to do a lot on it.”

It was the sort of header you’d expect from one of Cortez’s absent teammates on the night. An injury to Didier Drogba has left Phoenix without its marquee forward, but on Saturday night his presence was hardly noticeable thanks to the work put in by Cortez alongside Jason Johnson and Alessandro Riggi. Johnson and Cortez combined beautifully for a second goal three minutes into the second half, and while Sacramento pulled a goal back immediately through Trevin Caesar, Cortez quickly provided his second assist of the night to allow Peter Ramage to notch a third for the hosts.

“I think it’s just movement, the energy, the talking, the free-flow football,” said Johnson. “Playing with each other day in and day out in training has helped a lot, so just understand each players’ attributes, their talents; it’s easier to play with them in games.”

Photo courtesy Michael Rincon / Phoenix Rising FC

Rising FC Head Coach Patrice Carteron said he hoped the offensive performance put on by the side in Drogba’s absence would provide a confidence boost to the side as a whole.

“Sometimes when you have that kind of fantastic player like Didier, the other players don’t realize that also themselves, they can prove that they are a good player,” said Carteron. “I am happy about the result and the performance of most of them and it’s good for us of course. Mentally its fantastic for us to have those three points tonight and to be back in the top nine.”

With Rising FC’s attack clicking with or without Drogba, the side is now set to face a crucial stretch that sees both 10th-place Seattle Sounders FC 2 and 11th-place Orange County SC visit the Phoenix Rising Soccer Complex on Sept. 2 and Sept. 6 respectively, and a visit to seventh-place Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC on Sept. 9.

Three consecutive playoff six-pointers could put a strain on a squad, but Cortez believes the strength in depth the side has shown will serve it well as Rising FC pursues a first trip to the USL Cup Playoffs.

“We’ve had one or two changes in the lineup in the last couple games due to injuries or suspensions or different things and it’s been pretty seamless, the transition,” said Cortez. “I think we have plenty of guys on the bench and around and that all creates competition for places. When it comes to those games on Wednesday, Saturday or Wednesday, Sunday and stuff like that, I think it’ll be great. We know we can definitely get a lot of results going in because we have the players for it.”

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