On a High Note – Arizona United 3, Real Monarchs 2

Michael Rincon/ArizonaUnited.com
Michael Rincon/ArizonaUnited.com

On a night that shouldn’t have meant anything to Arizona United SC, every last person who filed into Peoria Sports Complex acted like it meant everything.

For the visiting Real Monarchs, a win would have vastly improved on a narrow path to the USL Playoffs, while the hometown Firebirds, for the third time in as many seasons, entered the match with no chance at all.

In this, Arizona’s 2016 home finale, the crowd started out with numbers more or less usual for the past few weeks – not great by USL standards – but then began to swell, bringing energy, enthusiasm, and a feeling that tonight was somehow more special than most, instead of less.

Also in attendance were multiple members of the United ownership group, including Berke Bakay, Dave Stearns, and David Rappaport. Elsewhere in the Valley tonight, Grammy winner and United investor Diplo was hosting his Mad Decent Block Party at Chandler Rawhide. There was definitely excitement in the air.

Arizona United players felt it too. On the front foot from kickoff, the home team took a 1-0 lead just 13 minutes into the match on a terrific strike from Luke Rooney, who played just underneath the two forwards Tony Cascio and Chris Cortez in tonight’s line-up.

“I got a good little run in the number 10 role,” explained Rooney after the match, “scoring some goals, so I was back in there tonight, pleased to get another goal.”

 

 

The roar from the crowd was just as satisfying as the goal, for those of us who have watched this team through thick and thin. This, you could tell, was how Arizona United was going to thank us.

Salt Lake was not invisible, though. Lacking the services of recently-promoted danger man and Arizona native Ricardo Velazco, forward Pedro Baez made his presence known, curling a terrific long-range shot towards the underside of Carl Woszczynski’s crossbar in the 33rd minute. Woz extended his considerable height on the play, however, and just managed to push the shot to safety.

Baez would not be denied, though. In stoppage time the Paraguayan youth international sent a similar effort from very deep, and caught Woszczynski perhaps by surprise, burying the Monarchs’ first goal, and sending the game to an exciting half-time tie.

A mistake at the back allowed Salt Lake to take the lead in the 60th minute. The wind, however, was not taken from United’s sails.

Just four minutes later, Peter Kelly volleyed to the far upper 90 to deadlock the score once again. “Just the ball out from Carl,” said Kelly post-game, describing the wonder strike. “From our box, up to Cortez, and he just kind of laid it off with his thigh and I just came through and hit it.”

 

 

In the 71st minute, midfielder Blair Gavin was subbed off for “legendary” Long Tan. Rooney, who had continued to fire at Salt Lake goalkeeper Eric Osswald, took another rip from distance just four minutes after the substitution, and Tan managed to flick the ball past Osswald from close range for the eventual game-winner.

 

 

Not wishing to send the crowd home without one last splash of drama, United allowed a Monarchs player to close in on Woszczynski, one-on-one, in what turned out to be the last play of the game. Remembering the heaping handful of stoppage-time disappointments served to them this season, the fans at Peoria Sports Complex inhaled mightily and held until the “Wall of Woz” made a stone-cold kick save in open ground to seal the victory.

“Most of the games here have been pretty exciting,” said head coach Frank Yallop afterwards. “It’s always nice to come out, obviously for us, with a win. And that’s important for the fans to see. Great crowd tonight, actually. It was electric, and I think they enjoyed it.”

We sure did, Coach.

United closes out the USL season at Portland Timbers 2, next Saturday, September 24.