Didier Drogba sparks Phoenix Rising to playoff victory

Oct 20, 2018, 11:22 AM | Updated: 11:24 am

Some things never change. Didier Drogba celebrates his free kick goal in the Phoenix Rising's playo...

Some things never change. Didier Drogba celebrates his free kick goal in the Phoenix Rising's playoff game the same way he celebrated his 2012 Champions League-winning penalty for Chelsea. (Photo by Ricardo Ávila/Cronkite News)

(Photo by Ricardo Ávila/Cronkite News)

SCOTTSDALE — With the largest crowd in Phoenix Rising Soccer Complex history watching Didier Drogba score a free kick in the first half, the Phoenix Rising’s historic season lived to see another day.

The Rising took down Portland Timbers 2 3-0 Friday in Scottsdale in the United Soccer League Western Conference quarterfinals.

The Rising began the game timidly, allowing the visiting side to attack and exert high pressure on them.

But that didn’t matter to Drogba. The Rising were awarded a free kick well outside the box in the 28th minute.

The former Chelsea man took the ball with his hands, placed it and took aim. It seemed as if he knew what was about to happen.

The 7,511 in attendance watched in silence as Drogba struck the ball with enough power to get past Timbers goalkeeper Austin Pack.

As soon as the ball hit the back of the net, the stadium erupted.

Drogba celebrated by running toward the corner flag, yelling and grabbing the Phoenix Rising crest on his jersey with might.

Club governor Berke Bakay, co-owner Mark Detmer and general manager Bobby Dulle all euphorically jumped and screamed.

“Crowd was incredible. That’s the loudest I’ve heard the stadium, ever,” Rising goalkeeper Carl Woszczynski said.

The crowd saw Drogba score, Jason Johnson make his return to the scoresheet after being injured and Solomon Asante bag his 14th goal of the season.

The tale of last Saturday’s regular season game between the teams, when Timbers 2 beat the Rising 1-0, didn’t repeat itself.

Friday, the Rising dominated the entire second half, and the floodgates opened after Johnson’s 62nd-minute goal. Johnson received a long pass from Chris Cortez and dodged his way inside the box, beating Pack at his near post.

The Rising kept pressing and secured their third half an hour later. Asante recovered a Billy Forbes rebound and scored with a soft shot to the right of the goal.

“To come here and finish three shows how well and focused we were this week in training,” Johnson said. “Other teams really can’t keep up with us.”

The 3-0 win marked the Rising’s first-ever playoff win and shutout.

“It’s fantastic. …I told the players to die on the field tonight. Everybody gave 100 percent,” Rising coach Rick Schantz said.

Schantz said the plan was to sit back and open space, and that even though the Rising weren’t playing great, Drogba’s free kick rescued them.

“We were much more clinical tonight,” Schantz said.

Schantz lauded Drogba’s performance since the Rising weren’t playing as well at the time of his goal.

“He (Drogba) kinda put the team on his back, and got us that victory,” he said.

The Rising will now face the winner of Saturday’s game between Sacramento Republic FC and Swope Park Rangers in the Western Conference semifinals with date and time yet to be determined.

If Sacramento win, the Rising will travel for their game. If Swope goes through, there will be another playoff night in Arizona.

Woszczynski said the team is growing together at the right time.

“Next week we come battle again,” he said.

Cronkite Sports

Cronkite Sports

Sports gambling in Arizona moves closer to reality

In the near future, the Arizona sports fan’s experience could include the ability to place bets inside sports venues while the action unfolds.

3 years ago

Higley quarterback Kai Millner committed to Cal this spring, despite visiting the campus just once ...

Cronkite Sports

Arizona high school football recruits still committing amid coronavirus

Despite visiting campuses few times if at all in some cases, class of 2021 high school football prospects from Arizona are committing at record rates.

3 years ago

(Photo via Cronkite News courtesy Mesa Community College Facebook)...

Arizona Sports

COVID-19 prompts junior colleges to push for cancellation of sports

The 2020-21 school year for Maricopa County community colleges may not include sports, schools await a decision by the district chancellor.

3 years ago

New Coyotes President and CEO Xavier Gutierrez believes outreach in the Arizona Hispanic market is ...

Cronkite Sports

New Coyotes CEO Xavier A. Gutierrez looks to reach Latino community

New Coyotes CEO Xavier A. Gutierrez is the first Latino president and CEO in NHL history and hopes to reach new fans in the Valley.

3 years ago

Shatori Walker-Kimbrough, who joined the Phoenix Mercury in the offseason, is ready to get the WNBA...

Cronkite Sports

Full pay, 22-game season in Florida on tap for Phoenix Mercury

Another league has agreed on a return-to-play plan in the month of July. This time it’s the WNBA, whose members include the Phoenix Mercury.

3 years ago

Phoenix Rising FC assistant coaches Peter Ramage (left) and Blair Gavin are awaiting details about ...

Cronkite Sports

Phoenix Rising players await news on resumption of USL Championship

Phoenix Rising FC and the USL Championship are set to resume play July 11 while players wait on more details for the return.

3 years ago

Didier Drogba sparks Phoenix Rising to playoff victory