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Phoenix Rising wins it at the death, extends winning streak to 8 straight

(Aaron Blau/FirebirdSoccer.net)

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — It ain’t over ’til it’s over. Play to the final whistle.

Whatever cliche you want to use, that was the case in Phoenix Rising FC’s 4-2 win over Portland Timbers 2 on Saturday night in front of a 12th-consecutive sellout crowd of 6,372 at Casino Arizona Field.

While the scoreline might seem like yet another decisive victory for PRFC, it was anything but.

Phoenix saved its best for last in what was its first-ever 1st-versus-2nd place match, waiting until the 90+4th minute to find the match-winner at the death via Amadou Dia’s brace.

“It feels great,” Dia said of his game-winner. “It’s frustrating because usually our offense is on fire, we’d bury all those four, five chances that we got. We were unlucky tonight. For me to go two goals like that when I’ve been missing chances all season, big time for me.

“The whole team has been giving me so much (expletive) for not finishing all those chances. But they were so excited for me when I scored those two goals, and I love those boys so I appreciate that.

“The more important thing is that we’re at eight in a row right now, we’re on a roll,” Dia added. “The goal is the national championship, and that’s our goal. Until we win that, all these games are just another game, and it’s expected. … We’re Phoenix Rising, we’re the number one club in the nation and what we’re doing right now is the expectation.”

Rising captain Solomon Asante would tack on an insurance goal three minutes later from the spot, his second converted penalty of the match.

“A lot of things were going on in my mind, like ‘are we going to draw?'” Asante said. “No, we don’t want to draw. We want to set the record, so a lot of things were going. We didn’t give up. That is the team. That is Phoenix Rising. That’s what we know and do best.

“We said to ourselves that we cannot lose. Last year we beat them home and away, and this year we have to repeat. We encouraged ourselves and then mentally we were strong and we stayed focused.”

PRFC was the better club on the night, continuing its absurd form of sublime one-two touch passing through the T2 defense.

But much like the beginning of the season, Phoenix failed to take its chances, especially in the first half.

Forward Joey Calistri continued his immaculate form since becoming the starting left winger following the departure of Junior Flemmings. He was able to get on the end of crosses and cutbacks as well as provide crosses across the face of goal for his teammates.

But the 25-year-old didn’t have his shooting boots on tonight, squandering chances that I’m sure he would say he should’ve finished.

Nobody is in better form in USL Championship right now than Asante. The Ghanaian had a brace and assisted the game-winner. He’s now scored in seven consecutive matches, one off the league record.

“I think I feel good,” Asante said of his form. “First I’ll thank my teammates, because I can’t do it alone, without them. … That’s why I’m scoring, keeping scoring.”

The captain’s 12 goals and nine assists not only lead the team, but also lead the league in both categories. And with the mid-season awards coming out next week, he should be the unanimous first-half MVP.

Portland was able to capitalize on two PRFC mistakes that resulted in rather poor, sloppy goals.

Five minutes after Asante’s go-ahead goal, midfielder Cristian Ojeda would equalize for his side against the run of play. Rising goalkeeper Zac Lubin came out of his box to clear a longball, but the chested clearance fell straight to the feet of Portland, resulting in a cheap goal just 10 minutes before the halftime whistle.

Timbers 2 took a page out of PRFC’s playbook by scoring only four minutes into the second half. A questionable non-foul call for Phoenix led to another sloppy goal. This time via Brayan Hurtado, giving his side a 2-1 lead.

Dia’s first goal on the night would come in the 62nd minute. The left back took on two Portland defenders with some fancy footwork and put the ball into the back of the net, bringing PRFC back on level terms at 2-2.

The win keeps Rising in first place in the Western Conference at 35 points, just one point behind USL Championship point leader Tampa Bay Rowdies.

Phoenix’s four goals also add to its USL Championship-best 45 goals scored and +28 goal differential. To put that in perspective, the next-best goal differential also belongs to Tampa Bay (+16). Fresno is the only other team in the Western Conference to have a +double-digit goal difference.

PRFC will have the next two weeks off with the upcoming bye week. Not only will the extra rest benefit the legs of the team, but Flemmings and Kevon Lambert will be returning from the Gold Cup, adding to an already stacked team that is without a doubt in the best form in USL Championship.

Rising FC returns to action July 13 away to Rio Grande Valley FC Toros.

Kickoff is set for 5:30 p.m. and the match can be audio streamed on ArizonaSports.com.

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