For the first time in franchise history, Phoenix Rising FC is playoff-bound following a 2-0 win over Portland Timbers 2 Wednesday at Providence Park in Portland, Ore.
This marks the fifth straight win, fourth straight shutout, and 11th straight match unbeaten. All are club records.
“For Phoenix Rising in our first year to qualify for the playoffs is like a dream come true,” Phoenix Rising head coach Patrice Carteron said. “I’m happy because they are progressing in spirit and playing really fantastic. I hope our last three matches at home, that many fans come out to support us…I’m happy for the fans of Phoenix, for the players, and for everyone.”
As expected, Carteron made some changes to Sunday’s Starting XI. Matt Hurlow-Paonessa and Shawn Wright-Phillips returned to the 4-2-3-1 line-up, while Jason Johnson and Alessandro Riggi rested.
Unsurprisingly, the hosts provided stiffer opposition than Vancouver in the early stages. However, Phoenix managed to score first in the seventh minute. Gladson Awako forced Kendall McIntosh into a save, and Wright-Phillips calmly rolled his rebound effort into the net.
Timbers 2 responded shortly afterwards through Victor Arboleda. He hit a shot into the side netting in the ninth minute, then forced Josh Cohen into a save in the 11th. The Timbers had to make a 19th minute substitution, as Michael Amick replaced Lamar Batista. The next twenty minutes passed without incident, until Barmby nearly equalized for the Timbers. His left footed shot forced Cohen into a save, and then Tomas Granitto banged a 30-yard volley inches wide of the post. Phoenix held strong over the final few minutes to enter halftime up 1-0.
The Timbers held more possession early in the second half, but had little to show for it. Granitto put a free kick effort on target in the 60th minute, but Cohen gathered easily. Johnson, who was subbed in, nearly doubled the Phoenix Rising lead in the 68th minute, but McIntosh dove to his left to parry Johnson’s left-footed effort aside. In the 74th minute, Shaquille Jimenez of Timbers 2 picked up the game’s first yellow card. At this point, the hosts probed desperately for an equalizer. Omar Mohamed had a shot blocked out for a corner in the 80th minute, and on the ensuing corner, Bill Tuiloma’s effort was saved by Cohen.
After Amadou Dia was denied in the 81st minute by McIntosh, Johnson sealed the match moments later. Wright-Phillips played a quick ball for Johnson after a Timbers’ foul, and Johnson worked the ball onto his left foot, past a defender, and drove it into the net.
“I was just trying to help the team, and I knew a security goal would help the team take some load off the defenders and everybody who had been working so hard,” Johnson said. “We weren’t talking about it (clinching the playoffs) all that much. It was another game in our streak, and we don’t want to give up that streak.”
Tuiloma forced Cohen into one last save in the 89th minute, but Phoenix Rising was able to cruise to victory and its first-ever playoff berth.
Phoenix Rising finishes its road trip Saturday at Sacramento Republic FC at Papa Murphy’s Park at 7:30 p.m.