No Rooney? No problem. Arizona United SC extended its win streak to three on Saturday night, with a nervy 1-0 result against San Antonio FC in Peoria. The win puts Arizona in sole possession of 8th place in the Western Conference of the USL (7th on points per game so far).
One aspect of the lineup for this match, that is continuing a trend of several games now, is former starting center back Uchenna Uzo on the bench, and Julian Ringhof being paired with recent signing Peter Ramage. Arizona head coach Frank Yallop was effusive with his praise of Ramage after the match stating, “Peter’s experience at the back – Ramage – is huge for us. He just quiets everyone down.”
In a show of good fun, Yallop then said, loudly enough for the passing Ringhof to hear, “Julian’s playing terrible.” Laughs were had.
The match itself started slowly, but Arizona owned a good deal of the possession through the first ten minutes, and did not concede the early goal that has proved fatal in matches to lower-rated opponents like Seattle and Tulsa.
Indeed, it looked as though United got closer and closer to an opening goal of their own as the half wore on. In the 26th minute, Blair Gavin made a strong run to the byline and floated a skillful cross to Chris Cortez, whose header shuttled frustratingly into the waiting hands of San Antonio goalkeeper Josh Ford.
In the 30th, San Antonio responded with some pressure, as Haitian international Sebastian Thuriere received the ball just inside the corner of Carl Woszczynski’s box, and fortunately for Arizona, took just enough time settling for Woz to make his move and get big. Thuriere’s shot carromed off the near post, and the crowd in Peoria breathed its first real sigh of relief.
Towards the end of the first half Arizona had several chances in the San Antonio end, with crosses from the wing and back-to-back corner kicks producing nothing but the hope that the breakthrough was near.
The second half began more even, with both teams crashing the opposing box, and little ball control in the middle of the field. Wing play from United was expected, with Luke Rooney’s absence playing a critical role in the home team’s offensive game plan, but San Antonio’s failure to exploit it was due in part to the elevated play of Blair Gavin and Matheus Silva, who were excellent on the night.
San Antonio head coach Darren Powell was complimentary of Rooney’s quality as a player, but also of Arizona United’s depth, naming Tony Cascio in particular. “Overall,” Powell said postgame, “we didn’t change anything because they’re a very good team and have quality players, not only on the field but on the bench.”
One of the best opportunities of the match came in the 67th, when Tyler Blackwood ran onto a ball ten yards out, but with only Ford to beat, Blackwood put his one-timed shot wide of the near post.
Blackwood would finally break through in the 73rd, when he received a nice chip through traffic from Long Tan and beat Ford one-on-one. Replays showed Blackwood to be on the shoulder of the last defender, but not quite offside by a mile, as some in San Antonio would understandably suggest. The 1-0 scoreline would ultimately hold.
The playoff picture is now tighter than a pair of wet leather pants, as only seven points separate eighth-placed United from the top spot. Every point counts, and the Firebirds must get a result in San Antonio on Wednesday to keep pace.