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Rising breaks penalty shootout curse, advances to conference semifinal

(Photo courtesy of Ashley Orellana)

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — It doesn’t get much closer than sudden death in a penalty shootout.

Phoenix Rising FC won its first penalty shootout in club history on Saturday night to defeat Austin Bold 0-0 AET (8-7 on pens) and advance to the Western Conference semifinal.

“My emotions are at an all-time high,” Rising defender A.J. Cochran said of his match-winning penalty.

“I know earlier on in the season, I missed the fifth PK vs. New Mexico to get us knocked out of the Open Cup. So I was hoping for the opportunity to redeem myself. Zac (Lubin) made two unbelievable saves during PKs and just gave me the opportunity with the ninth PK to go up there and do my job and I was just happy to be able to put it away.”

“Ironically we worked on pens for the last two weeks and we’ve been awful in training,” Phoenix manager Rick Schantz said.

“I told the guys in the huddle, ‘Stay confident, believe in yourselves. We’re here for a reason.’ They all stepped up to the pressure. When we go to pens, at that point, you’re like, ‘Whatever happens happens.’ For me as they’re taking the pens, I definitely looked up to the heavens. My mom’s up there. I was definitely asking her for a little help.”

The match itself saved the best for last. Compared to the shootout, the majority of the game left little to be desired.

Austin sat back and absorbed Rising’s attack by having a minimum of eight players behind the ball. That couldn’t have been more evident in the middle of the park, as Bold clogged up anything and everything, causing Phoenix midfielder Jon Bakero to have to come back into a deeper position in order to get touches on the ball.

“We didn’t really perform very well tonight. I have to give a lot of credit to the opponent. They kind of took us out of our rotation, they were very aggressive,” Schantz said. “Zac Lubin was spectacular. Our front three were OK, but the defenders were just fantastic. It’s not bad to finally get that clean sheet again.

“They were really tight in the midfield. That’s where they were really good. They didn’t give us any space to play in the middle. They came out and we had to keep coming deeper and deeper for the ball. A lot of teams let us pick up the ball and turn and face them. They just kept coming. They were all over us. We couldn’t get anything going. That’s probably one of the most physically aggressive teams we’ve played all season.”

The most shocking moments of the match came in the final 10 minutes of extra time, as Schantz took off both Golden Boot winner Solomon Asante and forward Adam Jahn. As a result, neither of the club’s two leading goal scorers were able to partake in the penalty shootout.

“Adam was getting cramps in his groin,” Schantz said. “He told me before we even went into overtime that he didn’t know if he could go anymore. I said give me five more minutes and 20 minutes later I took him off.

“Solo came to me and said he was starting to feel a little bit tight. What a selfless leader to say, ‘Coach, if it goes to penalties, it’s OK. I don’t have to be on the field.’ That’s what captains do. They think about the team first.”

But just as it has all season long, Schantz’s subs always seem to rise up to the occasion. Friday’s substitutions featured forwards Joey Calistri and Ben Spencer, who both converted their respective penalties in the shootout.

Midway through the second half, Rising defender Mustapha Dumbuya went down with an apparent lower-body injury and was replaced by center back Joey Farrell. Defender Corey Whelan would go on to be Phoenix’s right back for the remainder of the match, a position in which he has plenty of experience playing in from his days with Liverpool.

Rising will now host Real Monarchs SLC in the Western Conference semifinal on Friday.

Monarchs defeated Orange County 6-2 in the conference quarterfinal on Saturday and also beat Phoenix 2-1 at Casino Arizona Field on Oct. 12.

“At this point right now it doesn’t matter. It’s survive and advance,” Schantz said.

“Nobody is a favorite. Nobody is the best team. All that stuff is gone. We have one win, that’s about it. We have to prepare for another very, very difficult match.”

Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. and will be audio-streamed on