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Phoenix Rising FC wins big in Blair Gavin’s first match as interim manager

Phoenix Rising FC (ArizonaSports/Ashley Orellana)

It’s been an emotional last 72 hours for Phoenix Rising FC.

Manager Rick Schantz was put on administrative leave on Thursday night following Wednesday night’s match in San Diego in which PRFC’s Junior Flemmings allegedly called openly-gay Loyal SC player Collin Martin a Jamaican gay slur.

Flemmings — who vehemently denies all allegations — also took administrative leave on Thursday night in order to cooperate with USL’s investigation.

Then general manager Bobby Dulle told 98.7 FM’s Arizona Sports Saturday that assistant coach Blair Gavin would be interim manager.

And in his first match at the helm, Phoenix Rising thrashed LA Galaxy II 4-1 at Casino Arizona Field on Saturday night.

“Before the game I just told [the team] how proud I am of them for handling this difficult situation because they’re the ones that are progressing us and I’m very grateful for that,” Gavin said. “I just wanted them to stick together.

“What they do on the field — I don’t want anything to be separated from them and I believe in this team, I believe in this group, I believe in this organization. And when we stick together, nothing stands in our way and we’re working forward.”

Gavin’s starting XI on the night only had one surprise: midfielder Kevon Lambert, who was completely left out of the Matchday 18 in addition to fellow Jamaican international Damion Lowe.

“Damion is day-to-day so we’re working to get him progressed,” Gavin said after the game. “Kev has been playing significant minutes, so gave him the rest as well.”

Rising FC’s south end — where supporters’ groups Red Fury and Los Bandidos sit — protested in silence during the first half. The usually raucous section of the stadium eventually provided its normal chants, drums and smoke in the second half, as Phoenix would net two goals in the final 45 minutes.

“We knew they were there and we were aware that they were respectful with what happened Wednesday and we also agree with that and it was nice to hear them in the second half chanting again,” PRFC forward Santi Moar said. “And I heard they said they want the cup, so it’s time for that.”

The match began with yet another early goal conceded by Phoenix Rising.

Just six minutes into the game, Los Dos’ Augustine Williams netted his 13th goal of the year to give his side an early 1-0 advantage and come within one goal of Flemmings’ 14 for the USL Championship’s Golden Boot lead.

But only four minutes later, the in-form Moar — who got the start in place for Flemmings — got Phoenix level thanks to his best goal in a PRFC kit. The Spaniard was able to cut inside and curl it around Los Dos keeper Abraham Romero into the top corner to bring the match to 1-1.

In the 27th minute, Rising FC midfielder Sam Stanton — who has also come into form as of late — gave his side a 2-1 lead with his first of two goals on the night after calling for Rufat Dadashov to leave a pass from Solomon Asante that he buried into the top corner.

After Romero repeatedly kept PRFC center back Joey Farrell from scoring on one shot and two headers, Farrell would notch an assist by heading a corner back across goal that CB partner A.J. Cochran headed home to give Phoenix a 3-1 lead in the 51st minute.

And only six minutes later, Stanton would get his brace on a rebound after Asante’s shot that hit the post to bring the match to its final scoreline of 4-1 in Rising FC’s favor.

In the 87th minute, PRFC’s Ansu Kanneh became the youngest player in league history to make his professional debut at the age of 14.

“Ansu is a special player,” Gavin said. “He’s been in our system now for a little bit training with the guys every day and you sometimes forget he’s 14 years old. When he got on the field, you see him doing stepovers, you see him taking guys on — it’s exciting.

“So we have high regards for him, but it’s a long process and what’s nice about him is his character is very strong. He comes out, sets up tents, listens to the guys. He gets to sit next to Solo (Asante) and he’s loving it and we’re loving having him.”

PLAYOFF PICTURE

Now that the 2020 regular season is officially in the books for PRFC, the postseason outlook is starting to become more clear.

Due to Reno 1868 FC’s 2-1 win over Tacoma Defiance on Saturday night, Reno (36 points) will finish as either the No. 1 in the entire USLC postseason barring a San Antonio FC (33 points) victory of six or more goals over Austin Bold FC in the season finale on Sunday.

Phoenix Rising (35 points) will be the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference if San Antonio drops points, whereas an SAFC win would drop PRFC to the No. 3 seed.

However, due to Phoenix having the tiebreaker over Eastern Conference No. 1 seed Lousiville City, any USL Championship Final that includes Rising FC would be played at Casino Arizona Field.

UP NEXT

Phoenix Rising will host Sacramento Republic FC at Casino Arizona Field in the Western Conference quarterfinals on Saturday.

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

The winner will get a date with the victor of Reno-Los Dos in the Western Conference semifinals.