Rising defeats Rio Grande Valley FC to secure tie for first in Western Conference


Jake Anderson

Rising captain, Solomon Asante, (right) during the coin toss

Jake Anderson, Reporter

Phoenix Rising FC (53 points) narrowly defeated Rio Grande Valley FC Toros (24 points) 1-0 Wednesday night, placing them in a tie for first place in the Western Conference with Real Monarchs.

The Rising had limited success with RGV, as they had only beaten the Toros once in the last three years coming into the match.

“I think we got lucky tonight to be honest,” said Rising manager, Rick Schantz. “We played really, really well, but we got exposed twice and we’re kind of lucky to get three points.”

Most of the first half was slow—not many chances were created by either side.

RGV seemed content with packing it in and parking the bus, forcing Phoenix to play the ball wide and whip crosses in. Although the majority of the first half was played in the RGV end due to the Rising’s dominance of possession, they struggled to get on the end of any of their crosses or seven corners.

Forward Chris Cortez’s absence from the starting 11 played a part in that, as the team’s leading goal scorer began the game on the bench.

“We got a little impatient in the end of the first half,” Schantz said after the game.

“In the start of the second half, I was upset with the guys. We had a good game-plan. We had some good ideas. We were creating chances. We just weren’t getting on the end of crosses. I knew (RGV) wanted to allow us to play in wide areas and not open up the middle, so it was just of matter of which one was going to break first.”

The first real opportunity of the match came in the dying minutes of the first half when RGV forward, Carlos Small, hit a screamer from 25 yards out that was parried over the crossbar by Rising goalkeeper, Carl Wozczynski.

Rio Grande Valley FC had their best two chances of the match in the 50th minute when they had two shots from inside the box saved. However, the two saves were not made by Wozczynski, but by Rising defenders, Amadou Dia and Tristan Blackmon.

“I just knew I had to make a play and thankfully I was in the right place at the right time,” said Blackmon after the game.

The two goal-line saves proved to be monumental, as Phoenix went on to capture their fourth straight win and clean sheet.

“Carl (Wozczysnki) was fantastic,” Schantz said. “He made a great save there at the end and Tristan (Blackmon) flew across the goal-line. RGV should’ve scored two goals. We’ll definitely put that on the board in video. We can’t play this well and give away two easy chances like that.”

In the 61st minute, the game’s only goal was scored by Rising captain, Solomon Asante, after a back post cross from forward Billy Forbes was mishit by an RGV defender, resulting in an easy finish from close distance.

“Sometimes if you aren’t scoring, you don’t know what to do,” Asante said in postgame.

“You get frustrated. You want to push and if you don’t take your time, things won’t go your way. As the captain, I told the team we need to calm down, relax. It’s soccer. Anything can happen. You score in a second—not in a minute—in a second. We should take our time and play. The goal will come.”

Asante’s goal would be his last touch of the ball in the match, as he and teammate Kevaughn Frater were taken off for Cortez and newly signed loanee, Josh Perez.

Perez formerly played for Italy’s first division (Serie A) side, Fiorentina. He also played for the United States in the 2015 U-17 World Cup. He and teammate Blackmon currently play for LAFC, but are on loan to Phoenix Rising FC.

“I love it,” Blackmon said. “It’s great to be down here and get minutes with the team. I’m trying to help them win a championship, so I’m happy to be down here.”

The 20 year-old Perez showed why he has already played at the highest levels in the world, as he showed a flash of brilliance after only being on the pitch for 10 minutes when he took a defender on from midfield, cut inside and created a shot for himself that rose just over the crossbar.

In the final minute of the match, Small had an opportunity to tie the game for RGV with a one-on-one, but the veteran goalkeeper Wozczynski came up with a big save to secure three crucial points for the Rising.

“We set a goal two weeks ago to end at a certain number of points,” Schantz said.

“The fastest way to do that is to win six or seven in a row and the guys have a mission right now. You can see it. You can see the determination. You can see their focus. We’ll end up wherever we end up. I promised ownership a home playoff game, so we better be in the top four.”

The fourth straight win and clean sheet continues to prove Phoenix’s Western Conference dominance, as not only are they now in a tie for first place with Real Monarchs, but they continue to have the most goals scored (54), least goals allowed (28) and best goal difference (+26) in all of the Western Conference.

Phoenix Rising FC have a quick turnaround, as they take on SAFC (defeating Real Monarchs in their latest match) on Saturday, September 8, at 5:30 p.m. in San Antonio.