Temperatures hit triple digits in Phoenix before kickoff on Sunday afternoon. But for Rising fans, Didier Drogba’s arrival in Phoenix was the hottest pre-game talking point. As expected, Phoenix Rising unveiled him in a halftime ceremony. Before that, there was the small matter of facing Swope Park Rangers, Sporting’s KC USL affiliate that entered this game with a perfect 3-0-0 record. Rising jumped to a 4-0 lead, but Swope stunned home fans with three late goals before time expired in Phoenix’s 4-3 win.
Rising Starting XI– GK- Cohen, MF- Vasquez, Ramage, Stewart, Wakasa, Watson, Riggi, Rooney, Wright-Phillips, F- Cortez, Bravo.
Swope Park Starting XI- GK- Greczek, D- Storm, Palmer-Brown, Didic, Pasher, MF- Musa, Hernandez, Duke, F- Mirosavic, Iwasa, Gonzalez.
Match Recap- Rising was able to control possession throughout the first 10 minutes, but could not create a clear-cut chance. In the 10th minute, Chris Cortez received a ball from Alessandro Riggi in the box, but fired wide left of the target. Two minutes later, Swope Park countered with an excellent chance. Fortunately for Rising, Josh Cohen got big and saved the 1 v 1 chip effort from Mark Gonzalez with his face. Phoenix countered shortly after, but Swope’s Amer Didic made an excellent tackle before Omar Bravo could shoot inside the box.
Rising’s passing improved dramatically over the off week, and it paid dividends in the 22nd minute. Bravo slipped a pretty ball through to Riggi on the left side, and he curled a beautiful shot into the right corner of the net for a Rising goal.
Two minutes later, Rising doubled its advantage on a Luke Rooney penalty. The chance came after Cortez was played through on a delicious ball, then fouled just inside the box by David Greczek.
And in the 27th minute, Rising put the game to rest with a third goal in five minutes. Cortez dribbled past defenders and fired a delightful left-footed shot into the bottom left corner past Greczek. In a matter of moments, Rising had put three goals on the USL’s last perfect team.
Swope tried to get back into the game by bringing in Kharlton Belmar and Kevin Oliveira in the 34th minute, but Rising continued to control play as the half wore on. The best chance for Swope came off a deflected corner in stoppage time, but Josh Cohen tipped Swope’s effort over the bar.
The party continued at halftime, as radio personality Ian Camfield and Rising owner Berke Bakay introduced Drogba to a sellout crowd. Drogba gave a two-minute speech, with the loudest applause coming when Drogba proclaimed: “And together, Phoenix Rising will get to MLS.”
Phoenix continued to look like an MLS side against its badly outmatched opponent after the break. In the 47th minute, Peter Ramage scored at the back post off a corner kick from Rooney. But in the 51st minute, Cameron Iwasa collided with Josh Cohen outside the box in a scary moment for Rising fans. Cohen was evaluated for concussion symptoms by the trainers, but got up and continued in net.
Iwasa skied a decent chance for Swope in the 55th minute, but the visitors continued to be stymied by Cohen and the Rising back line. In the 58th minute Rooney slid Cortez in nicely, but his attempt went just wide of goal. Cortez then found acres of space on the right wing moments later, but his cheeky chip went harmlessly over the net.
Riggi and Rooney received deserved early exits in the 72nd minute, with Blair Gavin and Matt Hurlow coming on.
In the 78th minute, the game changed dramatically after Kody Wakasa received a questionable straight red card for bringing down Belmar in the box. Oliveira gave Swope some consolation in the 79th with a well-taken penalty.
The red card allowed Swope to press forward, and Swope turned a rout into a game when Oliveira scored another in the 90th minute. His shot rocketed off the crossbar and over the line to further improve the scoreline for Swope. Moment later, Christian Duke pulled a third goal back in stoppage time with a left-footed volley. Time ran out on Swope though, and Risng survived 4-3.
Swope Park ended up with over 64% possession in the match, but Rising had more shots, shots on goal, and were more dangerous on the attack until the dubious red card. The win moves Rising into ninth place in the Western Conference.
Up Next: Rising has another off week before returning to action at home vs. Reno 1868 FC on May 6 at 7:30 pm.