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Lack of clinical finishing ends Phoenix Rising’s quest for USL treble

(Photo courtesy of Ashley Orellana)

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. And Phoenix Rising’s season is just that, finished.

The club fell to Real Monarchs 2-1 on Friday night in the Western Conference quarterfinal, ending Phoenix’s quest for the USL Championship treble after having the greatest regular season in league history.

If you feel like you’re experiencing deja vu, you’re not.

The game was practically identical to the two sides’ last matchup at Casino Arizona Field on Oct. 12 that finished 2-1 in favor of Monarchs.

Once again, Phoenix doubled Monarchs in shots (24-10), but failed to capitalize on those chances, one of which was an absolute sitter that defender Joey Farrell somehow sent over the crossbar.

That was the narrative on the night. The likes of Adam Jahn, Kevon Lambert and Jon Bakero each had real scoring chances, but they failed to even test Monarchs’ goalkeeper.

Rising manager Rick Schantz was without his starting right back Mustapha Dumbuya, who was out due to a hamstring injury that he suffered in last week’s conference quarterfinal against Austin Bold.

As a result, Farrell would get the start at center back and move Corey Whelan to right back.

“I thought that Corey Whelan was fantastic at right back, but I think we missed (Dumbuya) a little bit,” Schantz said.

“We lost the ball twice and they hit us on amazing transitions. We didn’t get back fast enough and we got punished for it. That’s a very good team.”

But that wasn’t the only change Schantz made to his starting XI.

Joey Calistri got the start over Jose Aguinaga, which presented a more attacking lineup and the notion that Schantz was going for blood early.

“Last week I felt that we were holding on to the ball a little too long in the midfield and we just needed to play a little bit quicker,” Schantz said.

“Calistri likes to run in behind, so the idea tonight was to sit back a little bit deeper, let them have the ball and then for us to counter. It was perfect. Everything was working really well for 30-plus minutes, but then two mistakes and you’re down 2-1 at halftime. This is a cruel sport.”

In the 25th minute, Phoenix took a 1-0 lead after Junior Flemmings cooly finished a one-on-one that was assisted by Jahn.

Phoenix’s lead evaporated quickly, however, as Monarchs were able to equalize in the 33rd minute via Jack Blake’s laser-shot from just outside the box. Rising keeper Zac Lubin was able to get a hand on it, but there was just too much pace on the shot to keep it out of the back of the net.

Ten minutes later, Monarchs forward Maikel Chang would put his side up 2-1 for good with a left-footed shot that rolled just past the outstretched hand of Lubin.

After the match, Schantz spoke about the future of the club in terms of which players are going to return. And after the season Phoenix just had, it’s entirely possible that some of Rising’s best players could be leaving the team to advance their careers.

“We have a lot (of players) that will be returning and there’s a lot of big news that’ll be coming soon, so I’m really excited,” Schantz said.

“We’ve already been working on the future of this organization and the players that we’re looking for and style of football that I really want to implement over the next two or three years hopefully and we’ll keep going forward.”

Schantz also said that he will be spending time this offseason training with Barcelona, as well as spending time with Didier Drogba and Chelsea.

“I know we’ll come back and do this again next year. I’m excited about what the future holds for Phoenix Rising,” Schantz said.