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Early goals cost Rising FC as comeback falls short in loss to San Diego

Phoenix Rising FC's Darnell King. (Arizona Sports/Ashley Orellana)

If there’s been one blueprint to defeat Rick Schantz’s Phoenix Rising FC, it’s getting an early lead that allows opponents to park the bus.

Landon Donovan’s San Diego Loyal SC followed that plan in PRFC’s 3-2 loss on Saturday night at Casino Arizona Field, the first home loss since 2019.

The stat sheet mirrored what happened on the pitch, as Phoenix outshot San Diego 23-10, but were level on shots on target at 5-5.

“Every bounce went their way, every second ball was bouncing — they were a team fighting for their playoff lives and we were a team that’s in first place,” Rising FC manager Rick Schantz said after the game.

“At halftime I told our guys that every game from here on out, you’re playing against teams that are fighting for their career. This is their biggest game. Playing Phoenix Rising is their biggest game and we better step it up. That’s not a good enough start.”

The most controversial moment of the match came in the second half after Phoenix Rising appeared to have scored. With less than 10 minutes to go on the 90, PRFC had a goal disallowed after the ball had struck the referee during the buildup.

By rule, it was the correct call, but the timing of how long it took to make that decision — especially because a goal was being disallowed — is what created such mass confusion and hysteria throughout the stadium.

“I told (the referee), ‘Why don’t you pick up your whistle and stop play right away instead of letting it go that long?'” Schantz said of the disallowed goal after the game.

“And then when we scored, their player picks the ball up and punts it to midfield, and (the referee) decided to do a team meeting without ever coming to me. I’ve never seen it in my career. … It’s simple: players win games, coaches lose them and referees ruin them. That’s how it is.”

And while the defeat doesn’t affect Phoenix in the USL Championship Group B standings, any hopes of home-field advantage throughout the Western Conference playoffs are pretty much over.

As it stands, Phoenix Rising is the No. 4 seed in the conference, but No. 5 when it comes to most points possible behind San Antonio, Reno, El Paso and Sacramento.

Schantz deployed the same starting XI for the second consecutive match — one that didn’t include captain Solomon Asante. After picking up a knock in training and missing last week’s game, the Ghanaian started Saturday night’s contest on the bench.

“You don’t [take] a guy with sore muscles and start him right away when he comes back from injury,” Schantz said of his decision to start the defending MVP and Golden Boot winner on the bench.

“I was glad that he got through — we were only planning on playing him 20 minutes, but he got through about 40. That’s a good sign.”

Phoenix Rising actually started off the match in trademark style — forcing a turnover deep in San Diego’s half that led to a Junior Flemmings shot in the opening 20 seconds.

However, it was Loyal SC that would get the first two goals in the opening 12 minutes of the contest.

En route to a first half hat trick, San Diego’s Rubio Rubin bagged a goal in the third and 12th minute of the match to give his side an early 2-0 lead.

Phoenix Rising’s Santi Moar nearly cut San Diego’s advantage in half in the 23rd minute, but Loyal SC goalkeeper Jon Kempin made an incredible save from short distance to keep his side’s 2-0 advantage.

Flemmings would manage to get PRFC back into the contest just minutes before the halftime whistle. In the 41st minute, the Jamaican received a ball to feet from Moar at the top of the box, which Flemmings was able to bury in the bottom corner with style to cut Rising FC’s deficit to 2-1.

But just as Phoenix looked to be back in the match, Rubin would restore San Diego’s two-goal advantage four minutes into first half stoppage time. Albeit via a deflection, the forward’s 45+4 minute goal was his third of the contest and gave Loyal SC a 3-1 halftime lead.

“You’ve got to give credit to their players. Rubin is not a bad player,” Schantz said of San Diego’s lone goal scorer on the night. “He’s played at the World Cup for the U-20s. He knows what he’s doing, so it makes it challenging.”

Following the disallowed goal, Phoenix did manage to get one that counted thanks to the USL Championship Golden Boot leader Flemmings, who bagged his 14th of the year on a header off a short corner in the 89th minute to bring the match to its final scoreline of 3-2 in San Diego’s favor.

The goal was Moar’s second assist on the night and was also the Jamaican international’s 50th of his career.

STOPPAGE TIME

San Diego center back Grant Stoneman received a second yellow and was sent off in the 90+7 minute.

UP NEXT

Phoenix Rising returns to action on Sept. 26 as the club hosts Group B rival Orange County SC.

Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. and will be audio broadcasted live on ArizonaSports.com and on the new Arizona Sports app.