In a match dominated by the decisions of head official Ekaterina Koroleva, Phoenix Rising used a Didier Drogba brace to rally twice in Kansas City for a 2-2 draw.
Rising Starting XI: GK- Cohen, D- Dia, Stewart, Greer, Wakasa, MF- Watson, Timm, Johnson, Wright-Phillips, Gray, F- Drogba
Swope Park Rangers Starting XI: GK- Zendejas, D- Pasher, Doyle, Didic, Maher, MF- Duke, Musa, Oliveira, F- Belmar, Moloto, Selbol
Match Recap: Swope started with most of the possession, but Phoenix Rising created the first chance of note. Shaun Wright-Phillips earned a free kick just outside the box, but Drogba’s free kick was easily saved.
Swope dominated possession, but could not test Josh Cohen until the 25th minute. Tyler Pasher made a nice move up the left wing, and J.J. Greer appeared to make contact with Lebo Moloto’s foot before knocking the ball out for a corner. Koroleva gave Greer a yellow, pointed to the spot, and watched Kevin Oliveira bang his penalty into the net.
The Firebirds struggled to get into the game, and Swope nearly doubled its lead in the 42nd minute when Kharlton Belmar emerged for a 1-v-1 chance against Cohen. However, the keeper got a piece of Belmar’s chipped effort, and the referee ultimately called the play offside.
Phoenix finally came to life in the second half. First, Drogba found Wright-Phillips for a chance that was smartly saved by Adrian Zendejas. Wright-Phillips then found Drogba with a great pass moments later in the 57th minute, and he rolled the ball off the post and into the goal.
Just when Phoenix looked to go ahead, the home side won another penalty in the 62nd minute. Nansel Selbol and AJ Gray both went down in the box, and Koroleva pointed to the spot again. Selbol made no mistake on the kick, and Swope went ahead 2-1.
Koroleva’s decision-making came further into question in the 70th minute when James Musa collided with Drogba in the box. Musa did not win the ball, but no foul was called. Omar Bravo entered as a substitute, but he nearly got a yellow for simulation in the 75th minute in his first meaningful moment.
Swope then forced Cohen into a brilliant reaction save in the 80th minute. The play was ruled offside, but Cohen’s fantastic effort could not be ignored. Eder Arreola replaced Gray after that scare in hopes of providing an equalizer.
The goal came for Phoenix on another iffy call. Omar Bravo appeared to be offside in the 89th minute as a ball was played into the box, but Koroleva gave the Firebirds a penalty as Bravo fell to the turf. Drogba drilled the ball into the left corner for the score, and the game finished 2-2.
The Firebirds return home on Saturday June 24 at 7:30 pm for another challenging match against Real Monarchs.