When a team is struggling, where do they look for a spark? A top player returning from injury? Yeah that sounds about right.
Arizona United SC forward Chris Cortez made his return to the squad after a hamstring injury kept him out six weeks, scoring the winning goal against his former team Orange County Blues FC. In front of a crowd of 1,707, United won the game 2-0, their first victory at home of the season, and also snapped a five-game winless streak in league play.
It was a dream return for Cortez after being out a month and a half injured.
“It’s a huge sigh of relief,” Cortez said. “It has been a lot of rehab, a lot of training and working on preventing the injury from happening again, which is the important part. A lot of frustrations at times, it felt great. Super exciting this whole week to be training, very happy to be here.”
Local product Jordan Stagmiller made his first USL start at goalkeeper in place of Carl Woszczynski who was injured. Stagmiller played well, and was able to keep a clean sheet and earn the win.
“It’s exciting you know and it’s great to do it at home,” Stagmiller said. “That’s the biggest thing for me, I mean if it would have been on the road it would have been great but to be able to do it where I grew up and to have all my family and friends come out and see it’s nothing you can, I just can’t describe it. It’s just the best feeling you can get in the world.”
Neither team had any big chances in the first 35 minutes, though Arizona United SC defender Julian Ringhof flicked a Luke Rooney free kick over the bar, and Rooney had a couple of decent efforts saved by OC Blues keeper Josh Cohen.
Then Arizona United struck in the 41st minute. Defender Uchenna Uzo won the ball in the defensive end. Rooney was able to find forward Long Tan. Tan crossed it in to Cortez whose header found the top corner.
“I faded back at first and then as the ball went down the line to Long,” Cortez said, “I was thinking in my mind one thing one thing, he is going to chip it in the box. So it was get in the box, get in a good spot in front of the goalie and he put it in the perfect spot and that was about it.”
Arizona United remained in control for much of the second half, and their defense was well organized and not threatened by the Blues attack. Head coach Frank Yallop praised his defense for their play against a threatening squad.
“The last game they played in, they scored five goals, so that was a worry,” Yallop said. “But, I thought as a unit we defended well.”
United came forward well to start the 2nd half, with Rooney being the catalyst in the midfield. Both Ringhof and Uzo went close and Cortez’s chance for a brace was well blocked.
In the 65th minute United went up a man when OC Blues midfielder Akwafei Ajeakwa was sent off 3 minutes after coming on, for intentionally kicking Arizona United defender Tommy Williams in the back of the leg with his studs.
United continued to push the game, as Rooney was denied by Cohen after a flick-on from Tyler Blackwood put him through on goal.
Their pressure paid off as they scored in stoppage time. Some nice skill from Blair Gavin on the wing got him through and he squared it to Garza who buried the chance to give Arizona United the 2-0 win.
“Well it’s the first (win at home),” Yallop said. “The first of many hopefully.”
With their win, Arizona United SC moved up to 12th place in the standings with 12 points on the season. The OC Blues remained in 10th position after their loss with 15 points. The Blues will travel back home next Saturday to take on the 9th-place Real Monarchs. As for Arizona United, they will remain at home next Saturday and play against 6th-place Saint Louis FC.