Phoenix Rising FC propels to second place in Western Conference after defeating Colorado Springs

Jake Anderson, Reporter

Phoenix Rising FC (50 points) defeated Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC (31 points) 4-0 Saturday night in Scottsdale and now sit even with Orange County SC for second place in the western conference standings with a game in hand.

The Rising were without captain, Solomon Asante, as he continues to nurse a hamstring injury sustained in the Las Vegas Lights FC game on Wednesday.

The match got off to a slow start before both teams finally settled into the game.

Ten minutes into the match, Rising forward and “super-sub”, Jason Johnson, went down with a non-contact injury while making a run down the sideline. Rising forward, Chris Cortez, who started the game on the bench to get some rest due to the recent high volume of matches in short succession, was then forced to come in for the injured Johnson.

“Jason (Johnson) has a quad pull,” said Rising manager Rick Schantz after the game. “I just think three games in eight days is a little bit hard on him. We have ten days (off) now. He’s going to get a scan tomorrow and hopefully he and Soloman Asante will be back for Rio Grande Valley FC.”

In the 23rd minute, Rising forward, Shaft Brewer, placed a ground pass around the penalty spot for teammate Cortez, but the team’s leading goal scorer’s left-footed attempt went wide.

Two minutes later, Cortez had another opportunity to give his team the lead when forward Kevaughn Frater’s cross—also around the penalty spot—was met by a mistimed Cortez header that went straight up, rather than toward goal.

Phoenix Rising FC remained dangerous in the air, as midfielder Gladson Awako’s set-piece cross was flicked just over the crossbar by defender Tristan Blackmon in the 28th minute of play.

Colorado Springs had the first shot on target of the game in the 34th minute when forward Saeed Robinson’s strike from 25 yards out was saved by Rising goalkeeper, Zach Lubin. The first half shot would prove to be the Switchbacks only shot on target of the game.

The Rising’s first shot on target came in the 41st minute, as Blackmon once again got on the end of a set-piece cross that ultimately fell into possession of Switchbacks goalkeeper, Steward Ceus.

Phoenix Rising FC came out of the halftime break with the intent to attack, as forward Cortez found himself in open space 25 yards away from net and took a left-footed laser shot that rose just above the crossbar only one minute into the second half.

The game turned on its head in the 60th minute when a through ball intended for Colorado Springs midfielder, Jordan Burt, was cut off by Rising goalkeeper, Zach Lubin, in a collision that resulted in a deep gash on Lubin’s face and a straight red card for Burt due to the rash nature of the challenge. Lubin’s facial laceration caused the Rising to use their second sub of the game for yet another injury, as Rising goalkeeper, Carl Woszczynski, came on to replace the injured Lubin.

“Zach (Lubin) had a pretty nasty gash,” said Coach Schantz postgame. “Our trainer said that it’s one of the worst he’s ever seen. It was really deep. We were trying to decide, because it was a head wound, if we had time to stitch him up and not make the sub¾Didier (Drogba) kind of stepped in and distracted the referee while we were able to take care of some things. In the end, Carl (Woszczynski) is trustworthy. He’s a great soldier for the team and to come off the bench and finish out the game like that is unbelievable, so credit to Woszczynski”

After the Lubin injury, Phoenix capitalized on their one-man advantage and put three goals in the back of the net within the next 12 minutes.

The first came in the 68th minute when Rising forward, Kevaughn Shaft’s cross close to the end-line was spilled by the Switchbacks keeper and pounced on by Phoenix midfielder, Gladson Awako, to give the Rising a 1-0 lead with the game’s first goal.

Six minutes later, Colorado Springs was not able to clear the ball out of their own box following a corner, as the ball fell to the feet of Phoenix Rising FC defender, Joseph Farrell, and was poked over the goal-line to give the Rising a 2-0 lead.

In the 80th minute, the game was all Rising when forward Chris Cortez added to his season tally of 13 goals with a textbook header from an Awako cross that gave his team a 3-0 lead.

In the final minute of stoppage time, Rising forward, Kevaughn Frater (a former Colorado Springs teammate) put the match out of reach for Colorado Springs by putting one past Switchback goalkeeper, Steward Ceus, to bring the match to its final 4-0 score-line.

“The goal feels massive,” said Frater after the game. “I have to show support to my former team, so that’s the reason I didn’t celebrate. We have to put pressure on the managers when picking the squad, so we’re just looking forward to the rest of the season and continuing this winning form.”

Phoenix Rising FC have now had three consecutive clean-sheets to go along with their nine points that saw the ejection and one-game suspension of defender Doueugui Mala and the goalkeeper carousel of Carl Woszczynski and Zach Lubin due to performance and injury.

“Honestly, it’s the fans,” said the newly acquired Rising defender, Saad Abdul-Salaam, who is on loan from MLS’s New York City FC.

“The fans here are amazing. The fans keep us going as the 12th man. We wanted to close out the week with three wins. That was our goal. That was our agenda coming into the game. It was tough. It’s hot. It’s hot to me here. It’s good. We got three shutouts and nine points. It just comes back to having a really deep team and being able to rotate guys in and out and just communicating through practice week in and week out. We’re able to rest guys and play guys that are busting their asses in practice, so (we need to) just keep that going.”

The win also puts Phoenix tied with OCSC for the third most points (50) in all of the United Soccer League. The four goals place them level with MLS bound FC Cincinnati for the most goals in the USL this season (53) and gives the Rising the second-best goal differential (+25) of the 43-team USL.

“It starts with our offense to be honest,” said Coach Schantz after the game.

”We’re not just smacking it down the field. There’s a little more build up play. Again, like I said against San Antonio, we’re not predictable anymore. If teams are going to sit back and let us play, we can play. If they’re going to press us, we have to play (in) behind. We’re going to run into some very good teams in the playoffs and the biggest key for us is the physical preparation. We know we have talented players. We have the tactics right. Now it’s just preparing for the playoffs.”

“We haven’t known our full ability yet,” said Rising forward, Kevaughn Frater.

“We’re really a good set of guys. We all work hard. We still have a lot of work to do. I think that if we continue to work hard and push through with perseverance, we’ll be a lot fitter and a lot more dangerous than we already are. It’s always going to be hard playing three games in seven days. At first, we were drawing back trying to save our energy, but we’re professionals and we have to go out there and do our jobs. If it means working our asses off for 90 minutes of the game, we have to do that. Coach (Schantz) did a really good job at halftime and I appreciated that. You can see it helped. We scored four goals in the second half. We could’ve beaten this team by eight if we wanted.”

The Rising will have a 10-day break before their next match, but the team will have to endure three games in the span of 10 days, two of which are on the road. However, Coach Schantz and his players have learned from past mistakes when a lengthy layover resulted in a five-game run of poor performances.

“We’re working,” Schantz said in postgame remarks. “I made a mistake when we had a two-week rest and I gave them five or six days off and things didn’t go well for about three weeks, so they’ll have an opportunity to enjoy this week, maybe for a night or two, but they’re back to work. We’re going to come out better and even faster against Rio Grande Valley.”

“We’re going to work hard,” Frater said. “This is just the beginning. We already said we want to reach the playoffs, but we feel that we can win it and if we want to be champions, we have to work a lot harder because teams know that we are Phoenix Rising and we can only get better by going forward, so there’s no rest for us right now.”

Phoenix Rising FC’s next game is Wednesday, September 5, at 7:30 p.m., as they host Rio Grande Valley FC at Phoenix Rising Soccer Complex in Scottsdale.