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Lubin makes up for howler, Rising FC advances to West Final on penalties

Phoenix Rising FC goalkeeper Zac Lubin, Rufat Dadashov (9) and Joey Calistri. (ArizonaSports/Ashley Orellana)

RENO, Nev. — A 2-0 lead is a dangerous one is the old saying, and that proved to be true for Reno 1868 FC on Saturday night at Greater Nevada Field.

After going down 2-0 in the first half due to some abysmal play at the back, Phoenix Rising FC came back to tie the match 2-2 AET and advance 5-4 on penalties.

That was largely in part to goalkeeper Zac Lubin, who made up for a disastrous early error by coming up with several crucial 1-on-1 saves in addition to making the only stop in the penalty shootout.

“Incredible. I had to do it — to give up that goal in the first half, the first giveaway is tough,” Lubin said of his save in the shootout. “Our guys played incredibly and I knew if I just made one save that we were stepping up cool, calm, collected and our guys were going to put it away. We did our homework and we knew where they were going and got it right on one. So to give up a mistake like that in the beginning and answer, play well the whole game and make that save is huge.

“So much belief in our team knowing that that one goal wasn’t going to decide the game. We were going to score goals, we were going to go hard and I knew we were going to score. I knew our team had my back and shrug it off, [stuff] happens and just knowing the confidence in the team they have in me and I have in them.”

For the second consecutive match, PRFC interim manager Blair Gavin deployed the exact same starting XI and matchday 18, with center back Damion Lowe remaining on the bench. However, the Jamaican would come on 10 minutes into the second half for the remainder of the match.

“It’s a day-to-day thing with Damion coming back from the injury,” Gavin said. “We monitor him constantly and we monitor the whole team and we have to weigh a lot of options. But as you saw today, the spirit of the team is fantastic and that’s what I’m most proud of.”

Coming into Saturday night’s contest, Phoenix (46) and Reno (43) were the No. 1 and 2 teams in USL Championship for the most goals scored.

The two sides proved why they were the league’s best attacking teams in 2020 by combining for 57 shots (18 on target) and 25 corners. Rising once again outshot its opponent 31-26, but had fewer shots on target (10-8) and corners (15-10) than Reno. However, Phoenix also had 13 of its shots blocked by defenders compared to Reno’s 6.

The match was also incredibly physical, as the two sides combined for nine yellow cards, four of which were given to Phoenix Rising players.

The game couldn’t have started any more disastrous for PRFC. Just six minutes into the match, Lubin made a howler of a mistake that resulted in Reno’s go-ahead goal after turning the ball over to 1868 FC’s Corey Hertzog in Phoenix’s penalty area.

In the 40th minute, another poor piece of Rising defending led to Reno’s second goal to take what appeared to be a commanding 2-0 lead.

After PRFC’s A.J. Cochran deflected a Reno cross with his head, Rising failed to clear the ball and actually let it bounce inside its own penalty area. Reno native Kevin Partida was then able to control the ball and fire a shot past Lubin for the goal.

But just moments prior to the halftime whistle, Rising would get one back that would prove to play a vital role in PRFC’s comeback.

With Santi Moar in possession at the top of the box, the Spaniard cut on his left and fired a shot along the ground to the far post that was blocked by a Reno defender. The ball then deflected right to the feet of PRFC midfielder Kevon Lambert, who was able to slot it home to bring his side within one in the 45+2 minute.

And following chance after chance for both sides, Phoenix Rising captain Solomon Asante bagged the equalizer in the 71st minute with a nifty move to beat the Reno defender and power it past the diving goalkeeper.

Extra time left much to be desired, as neither club took very many risks that could have left them exposed at the back for a game-winning goal.

But in penalties, it was Lubin and striker Rufat Dadashov who were the heroes. Both Phoenix and Reno converted their first four spot-kicks until the PRFC goalkeeper saved Aiden Apodaca’s strike, who was brought on for starting striker Foster Langsdorf in the 83rd minute. Dadashov would then step up to send Rising to the Western Conference Final for the second time in three years.

The other Western Conference semifinal matchup on Saturday also needed penalties to decide a winner.

After drawing New Mexico United 1-1 AET, El Paso Locomotive FC advanced 5-3 on pens for the second consecutive week — meaning both conference finalists will have played 120 minutes in back-to-back weeks.

“It’ll be up to us to monitor the training loads to make sure that the guys are ready,” Gavin said. “That’ll be on us as a staff to ensure that these guys are ready to go come Saturday.”

STOPPAGE TIME

Interim manager Gavin subbed left back Owusu-Ansah Kontoh on for captain Asante in 112th minute because he was “feeling something.” Kontoh would go on to convert his penalty in the shootout.

UP NEXT

Phoenix Rising hosts El Paso Locomotive next Saturday in the Western Conference Final at Casino Arizona Field.

PRFC beat El Paso earlier this season at home by a scoreline of 3-1.

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


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