There are moments in a season that you can look back at and say it may have been a defining moment of the season.
Saturday night at Weidner Field in Colorado Springs, Colo., Phoenix Rising FC may have had one of those moments.
A.J. Gray hot a low knuckler past Colorado Springs defenders and past a surprised Moise Pouaty in the 87th minute to give Phoenix Rising FC a 2-1 victory over Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC.
The win, which moved Phoenix Rising to seventh in the Western Conference standings, set many franchise records. The team increased its unbeaten streak to seven, a new franchise high, and also set a a franchise record for points in a season. The team currently has 37 points with eight matches remaining.
Colorado Springs almost had Phoenix Rising on the back foot from the start of the match. A free kick in the second minute from Kevaughn Frater hit the crossbar, and Luke Vercollone followed with what looked to be a goal, but was waived off by the referee for a foul by Vercollone.
Phoenix Rising had its first chance in the 16th minute, when Amadou Dia whipped in a cross to Matthew Hurlow-Paonessa, whose header went just wide of goal.
In the 21st minute, Colorado Springs’ Josh Suggs attempted a cross inside the box, but Josh Cohen was up to the task in stopping the cross.
Then Colorado Springs had its best chance of the half in the 45th minute when Suggs hit a shot at the top of the box, only to have Cohen come up with the save to keep the game scoreless at the half.
But Phoenix Rising got the early goal it needed in the second half. Five minutes into the half, Dia took a ball down the left hand side, and fired a shot short side that caught Pouaty by surprise, and Pouaty couldn’t get a hand on it quick enough as it found the back of the net for a 1-0 Phoenix Rising lead.
Colorado Springs would have a golden chance in the 74th minute, when a cross from Shane Malcom almost caught Cohen off guard, but Cohen was strong in punching the ball over the bar for a corner kick that did not amount to any damage.
Phoenix Rising almost doubled its lead five minutes later in the 79th minute, when substitute Jason Johnson took a ball down the left and fired a low shot on goal, but Pouaty made the save, and Johnson got the rebound but pushed it wide of the net.
But Colorado Springs would find the equalizer just four minutes later in the 83rd minute. Suggs took the ball down the right, and Kody Wakasa was unable to block Suggs’ cross into the middle, which found the feet of the newest member of Colorado Springs in A.J. Ajeakwa, who beat Peter Ramage and Cohen and found the back of the net, tying the game at 1-1.
That would then set up the late-game heroics by Gray, who came on as a substitute in the 76th minute. Dia drove down to the left corner and put in a cross to the middle of the box. Johnson headed it back outside the box to Gray, who took a couple dribbles and fired a low shot through a pair of Colorado Springs defenders and caught Pouaty off guard, who never moved on the shot as it went past him and into the net for a 2-1 lead.
Phoenix Rising would then have to hold off a pair of challenges in second half stoppage time. Vercollone had a shot go just wide off a header by forward Tobenna Uzo in the 93rd minute, and Malcom got a shot off a minute later that Cohen made a save on.
Phoenix Rising returns to action Saturday, Sept. 16 when the club faces off with the top-ranked team in the Western Conference in Real Monarchs SLC at the Phoenix Rising Soccer Complex in Scottsdale. Kickoff for this important Western Conference matchup will be at 7:30 p.m.