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Phoenix Rising eliminated from U.S. Open Cup in penalty shootout

(Photo courtesy of Phoenix Rising FC)

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Phoenix Rising FC hosted New Mexico United in the second round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup on Wednesday night at Casino Arizona Field.

Rising FC tied New Mexico 2-2 on the night but was eliminated in a penalty shootout by a score of 4-3.

PRFC manager Rick Schantz made two changes to his starting XI from the last match against Rio Grande Valley FC Toros.

Goalkeeper Carl Woszczynski got the start in the cup match, as backup goalkeepers starting in cup matches is somewhat of a regularity around the world.

Jon Bakero also started in place of Adam Jahn, shifting the formation to a 4-3-3 with Bakero as the false-9.

“It was very good,” Schantz said of the XI’s performance.

“The only thing I was disappointed with is I thought after the first twenty minutes, we started the midfield three, James Musa… they started to drop when we would lose possession instead of stepping forward and that allowed New Mexico a little bit of confidence. They hit it long. They tried to win knock-downs and play really direct on counterattacks. It sucks. I don’t like that kind of game but it wins games.”

New Mexico United was on the front foot the opening 10 minutes of the match.

NMU should’ve scored the opening goal of the game in the fifth minute when former PRFC man Kevaughn Frater was one-on-one with Woszczynski following a Musa turnover. But Woszczynski was up to the task as he was able to make a crucial double-save to keep his side level with New Mexico.

The remainder of the first half belonged to Phoenix, as the club was the more dangerous side with its possession in the final third, creating chances for PRFC’s forwards.

Similar to the beginning of the match, New Mexico was the better side the opening quarter of an hour.

There was a slight tactical change to Schantz’s first-half side.

Forward Junior Flemmings seemed to be playing up top as the main striker, which proved to be a positive change as Rising FC had two great chances in quick succession following NMU’s spell of possession.

The first came after Flemmings dispossessed a New Mexico defender, leaving the Jamaican one-on-one with the NMU goalkeeper, Cody Mizell. But Mizell was able to make one of his 11 saves on the night as he kept Flemmings off the scoresheet.

“Junior likes to go at people and he’s aggressive,” Schantz said. “I thought he did a pretty good job there.”

Moments later, Musa, who had a screamer of a goal last match, almost scored his second in as many games as his left-footed volley from the edge of the box was parried away by Mizell.

Rising finally got its reward in the 65th minute after Amadou Dia was brought down in the box, resulting in Flemmings’ cool finish to give Phoenix a 1-0 lead.

New Mexico would equalize with just 10 minutes remaining in the match on a perfect cross and header at Phoenix’s back post.

Rising FC had a plethora of opportunities to win the game at the death on two headers from A.J. Cochran and Bakero, and a volley from Solomon Asante, but Mizell continued to put on a man of the match performance.

New Mexico took the lead just five minutes into extra time on what looked a lot like your typical hockey deflection goal as Devon Sandoval scored his brace by deflecting a Santi Moar shot just passed Woszczynski.

NMU’s lead didn’t last long, however, as Asante played a ball in for Jahn that was rifled into the back of the net to bring the game level at 2-2 in the 101st minute of the match.

With just minutes remaining in the second half of extra time, the lights at Casino Arizona Field went out, causing a brief delay.

But after 120 minutes of play, the two sides still could not be separated, causing the game to go into a penalty kick shootout.

Both clubs made their first two penalties, but it was Rising defender Dia that missed the first penalty of the shootout.

Woszczynski was able to get his side back on level terms going into the final round of the shootout, but as Cochran stepped up to the spot needing to convert in order to keep PRFC alive, Mizell made his biggest and final save of the game to propel New Mexico United into the third round of the U.S. Open Cup.

This is the second consecutive year in which Rising has been eliminated from the U.S. Open Cup in penalties and puts the team at 0-4 all-time in penalty shootouts.

“We’re fine,” Schantz said.

“Trying to press we got a little bit fatigued. We’re still working on some new things and we still have a lot of work to do, but we did win the ball and I didn’t think we got forward quick enough when we won it. We’re still fine. Mentally, the guys are fine. It’s tough to lose in penalties. It’s just a coin toss.”

Phoenix Rising FC returns to action against Las Vegas Lights FC on Saturday at Casino Arizona Field.

Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. and the match can be audio streamed on ArizonaSports.com.

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