Low-Energy Defense Dooms Firebirds in OKC

Photo by Aaron Blau/Firebird Rising
Photo by Aaron Blau/Firebird Rising

In a rematch of April’s hotly contested win over Oklahoma City Energy FC, the Firebirds traveled with a mostly second-string lineup. The Energy made Phoenix pay for that decision, and exacted its revenge with a 3-2 win.

Phoenix Rising Starting XI: GK- Woszczynski, D- Vasquez, Uzo, Greer, Wakasa, MF- Romilio Hernandez, Gavin, Cortez, Avila, Gray, F- Seth.

OKC Energy Starting XI: GK- Laurendi, D- Harris, Hyland, Andrews, Wallace, MF- Rasmussen, Jackson, Guzman, Miguel Gonzalez, Barril, Wojcik.

Match Recap: This match started slowly, as both teams struggled to create chances in the humid 91-degree heat. Mercifully, chances started to materialize after the 20 minute mark. In the 24th, Blair Gavin tried a cheeky chip, but Cody Laurendi overcame the shadows to make the stop. Chris Cortez and Michael Harris then traded long half-chances around the 30-minute mark.

Then the game jumped to life. Oklahoma City created a phenomenal chance moments later when Miguel Gonzalez rounded two Rising defenders with an awesome touch, but JJ Greer preserved the 0-0 score by blocking Gonzalez’s point-blank effort. Phoenix responded with two decent chances, but neither Mike Seth nor Gavin could test Laurendi.

Moments later, Phoenix created a glorious chance. Uchenna Uzo skied over Laurendi on a free kick, and his header found Gavin at the far post. Incredibly, Gavin mis-hit the ball just wide of the right post. AJ Gray kept the pressure up with a 35-yard solo run that forced Juan Pablo Guzman into a 40th minute yellow card. Yet the Firebirds could not break through with a goal.

OKC created some nervy moments just before halftime, and  Wojciech Wojcik made Phoenix pay in stoppage time with a beautiful header from Michael Harris’ classy cross. Peter Ramage did not travel with the squad, and his commanding presence was sorely missed on this play.

As has become tradition for Phoenix, the Firebirds equalized almost immediately. Phoenix won a 47th minute corner kick, and Kody Wakasa’s excellent flick-on header found JJ Greer in close range.

Oklahoma City responded in the 56th minute with an excellent volleyed finish from Kyle Hyland. However, it must be noted that Daniel Jackson was allowed to find Hyland completely unmarked in the box.

In the 63rd minute, the Energy again caught Phoenix ball watching on a counter, but Phoenix survived thanks to a timely offside flag.

OKC continued to run circles around the Firebird defense, and doubled its lead in the 69th minute. Carl Woszczynski parried a shot from Jackson, but Wojcik pushed the rebound into the net.

The Energy nearly added a 4th in the 82nd minute, but Wojcik fired over the bar on a 1-v-1 chance. Phoenix turned the tables one minute later when Eder Arreola passed his defender on the left wing, then sweetly finished into the bottom right corner.

Wojcik had to exit for OKC after Rising FC sub Matt Watson gave him a hard foul. However, the Energy held on for a deserved 3-2 win.

Next Match: Phoenix looks to bounce back when it hosts Whitecaps 2 at 7:30 pm at the Phoenix Rising Soccer Complex. Didier Drogba will be making his Phoenix Rising debut.