Phoenix Rising FC closed its preseason on St. Patrick’s Day with a solid 1-1 draw against Grand Canyon University. A crowd of over 500 watched the match, with supporters groups La Furia Roja and Los Banditos making their presence felt.
Tonight’s Starting XI: Goalkeeper- Josh Cohen; Defenders – Victor Vasquez, Jordan Stewart, Peter Ramage, J.J. Greer; Midfielders- Matt Watson, Jason Johnson, Luke Rooney, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Mike Seth; Forward: Omar Bravo.
Game Recap: This game started fairly slowly for both sides. Rising had a couple chances in the first 25 minutes; the most notable coming when Bravo had his second goalbound attempt cleared off the line in as many matches. Stewart came off limping in the 27th minute, but he showed movement on the sideline later and did not appear seriously hurt. GCU had their own first-half chances, but could not trouble Cohen. A tense moment occurred in the 33rd minute, when Vasquez got away with a handball just outside the box, with GCU fans appealing for a penalty moments later when their striker went down in the box.
In the 39th minute, Phoenix Rising got a timely goal from an unlikely source. Off a corner kick from Rooney, Ramage was able to head one home to give Rising its first lead of the preseason. Rising pressed for a second before the break, and nearly found it when Seth’s shot was turned aside by the GCU keeper. Seth struck the ball well, and would have scored if his shot was placed three feet to either side.
GCU got into the game after halftime, but Cohen was not especially troubled. In fact, Rooney got involved as Rising nearly hit GCU on the counter twice. In the 68th minute, coach Frank Yallop took all his starters out and brought on mostly trialists. For the remaining 22 minutes, Alessandro Riggi was easily the best player on the pitch. He won balls in the midfield, was a physical presence, distributed the ball nicely, and got up the right flank to win a couple corners.
But just when the Rising looked good to hold on for its first preseason win, GCU scored in the 77th minute. A 30-yard free kick from the left of goal came into the Rising box, and a glancing header left Cohen helpless as the ball bounced into the bottom right corner. Matt Hurlow was forced a diving save in the final 10 minutes as Rising probed for a winner. However, the match ended 1-1.
Positive Takeaways: Cohen looked sharp when called into action, the defense played its best game of the preseason, Ramage, Watson, and Riggi had excellent performances, Bravo was active on offense and in defense, and nearly everyone got playing time. The team also looked noticeably sharper on the ball and in passing sequences.
Negative Takeaways: The defense looked vulnerable on set pieces, and Rising again struggled to apply the finishing touch. On multiple occasions, a final through ball was overplayed, or an excellent chance was hit directly at at the opposition.
Conclusion: Rising looks much more prepared for the season than it did last Friday in California. Set pieces notwithstanding, the back four had its best performance of the preseason. The attack still isn’t firing on all cylinders, but this team is fun to watch when everything is clicking. Late in the first half, everything clicked beautifully.
Postgame Audio: I had the privilege to speak with Coach Frank Yallop and goal-scorer Peter Ramage.
Frank Yallop (1:22):
Peter Ramage (2:37):
Up next: Phoenix Rising FC opens the 2017 USL season in its new facility, Phoenix Rising Soccer Complex March 25 against Toronto FC II at 7:30 p.m.