Attendance was always going to be an issue on one of the hottest Saturday nights of the year in suburban Phoenix, but the fans who made their way to Peoria Sports Complex were treated to a cracker here, as Arizona United struck first, but settled for a short-handed 1-1 draw with Swope Park Rangers.
The first ten minutes saw the visitors attack more brightly, perhaps underestimating the endurance needed to complete a game in triple-digit temperatures, but no goals came. Veteran marksman from Kansas City, Kris Tyrpak, and his rookie strike partner Mark Gonzalez were stymied by a defensive unit for United that was a bit different from that of previous weeks. Daniel Antunez started in the middle next to rookie sensation Uchenna Uzo, with stalwart netminder Carl Woszczynski at their backs, after being out with a lengthy injury recovery. “They’re a good, physical team,” said Tyrpak. “We knew what we had to do, coming in. And we didn’t execute it perfectly, but, you know I thought we did a good job; we weathered the storm. Unfortunately we didn’t capitalize with (Arizona) going a man down, but, you know, that’s soccer.”
United did not manage a decent chance on the night until the 21st minute when Tyler Blackwood did well in the box but sent his rocketing shot high. Six minutes later, however, Uzo was attempting to make something of a corner kick, when he was hauled down in the box by Gonzalez. Firebird fans know that Uzo does not hit the turf often, and the call was an easy one for the referee. Long Tan slotted home the penalty kick, giving Arizona the 1-0 lead.
It was short-lived, as in the 29th, Uzo was called for a relatively questionable handball in Swope’s box, and Tyrpak beat an outstretched Woszczynski to the keeper’s left for the equalizer.
The second half saw two significantly less enthusiastic teams take the field, as heat, or the stalemate, tempered each club’s creativity in attacking the other. Unfortunately, things got more interesting about 15 minutes into the half, although not in the right way.
Swope Park’s Amadou Dia went down on the sideline near his own bench, and a conversation with Arizona’s Tommy Williams – the subject of which I was unable to ascertain from Dia or other parties after the game – was followed by a great deal of pushing and angry words involving some twenty players hailing from both squads. It was an ugly scene that ended in ejections for Arizona’s Matheus Silva, who was in the XI, and Swope’s Ayrton, who was on the bench. Silva was ejected for putting his hand to the face of a Swope player, the severity of which was disputed wildly in post-game interviews. In any case, United was forced to play with 10 men for the final half hour, but seemed strangely energized.
To be sure, the Firebirds pressed forward and earned at least four corner kicks, while digging in and defending with grit and determination, much to the dismay of the flagging guests. “I was proud of the guys the way we finished the game, just, frustrating not to win,” said United coach Frank Yallop.
Arizona United next faces Seattle Sounders 2, back home again on Saturday, July 16.