Phoenix Rising upset in 1st round of playoffs by RGV via penalty shootout

Nov 7, 2021, 5:53 AM | Updated: 6:02 am
Phoenix Rising FC forward Santi Moar (7) plays against Rio Grande Valley FC in the USL Championship...
Phoenix Rising FC forward Santi Moar (7) plays against Rio Grande Valley FC in the USL Championship Western Conference Quarterfinal at Wild Horse Pass in Chandler, Arizona, on Nov. 6, 2021. (Ashley Orellana Photo)
(Ashley Orellana Photo)

Phoenix Rising FC’s quest for a third trip to the USL Championship Final in four years came to an early end on Saturday night at Wild Horse Pass.

PRFC fell, 4-3, in a penalty shootout following a 3-3 draw against Rio Grande Valley FC in the Western Conference Quarterfinal.

“Very good game, it was exciting as hell,” Phoenix Rising manager Rick Schantz said postgame. “Our fans were unbelievable tonight. Man, this place was rocking.

“When we scored that third goal to go up, 3-2, I thought we were going to be able to get it done, but a little mistake here or there cost us. You can’t score three goals and not win at home. I love these guys. They fight hard, they fight very hard.”

RGV took a 1-0 lead in the 19th minute when Baboucarr Njie sprinted through the center of Phoenix’s defense and smacked a crisp shot that slid under the arm of Rising goalkeeper Andre Rawls and settled into the back of the net.

The wide open game continued in the 21st minute with a free kick for Rising in a dangerous spot.

PRFC captain Solomon Asante stepped up and bent a curling shot around the wall, beating RGV goalkeeper Collin Miller — who got his left hand on the shot but couldn’t keep it out, redirecting the ball into the side netting — to level the score, 1-1.

Rising lost Kevon Lambert to an injury in the 32nd minute. He was replaced by veteran Luis Seijas in defensive midfield.

“This is going to be a tough one. It’ll be hard this week for them,” Schantz said. “Some of the guys won’t be back. Some of them will. I know I will start tomorrow thinking about next year and how to keep moving forward. We have to grow as an organization. We have to learn.

“Unfortunately, we had some injuries, we made some moves here or there, but still, we did enough to win. Fair play to Wilmer and RGV, they changed that team tremendously. They were very, very physical, very aggressive, very tenacious. They’re going to be a tough team to beat.”

Phoenix’s high press produced a turnover in the 54th minute, as Seijas picked off a pass in RGV’s third of the pitch and gave it to PRFC midfielder Arturo Rodriguez, who beat Miller to the corner of the net to make it 2-1.

Rodrigo Lopez converted a free kick chance from the top of the box in the 71st minute to tie the game, 2-2 heading into the final 20 minutes of play.

The match continued into extra time, where Phoenix took a 3-2 lead on Asante’s second of the match.

Rising’s captain brought down a pass from Jon Bakero in the center of the penalty area and finished off the chance with a blast into the back of the net in the 101st minute.

But referee Brandon Stevis pointed to the spot in the 109th minute, handing RGV’s Elvis Amoh a penalty kick, which he converted to tie the game, 3-3.

Bakero netted his shot to start the shootout, but Miller made back-to-back saves to deny Rodriguez and Aodhan Quinn.

Rawls pulled one back for Phoenix with a save on Lopez in the fourth round, but Amoh ended the match with his second spotkick conversion of the night.

“It was a season of ups and downs,” Schantz said. “We had some difficult moments, but the adversity really helped us. Don’t take anything away from these boys.

“And the guys that don’t come back, they’ll always be remembered, and the guys that do, they’re going to fight for you. They’re going to give everything they can to bring a trophy here. We’ve won a lot of games here at Phoenix Rising. They should be very, very proud of the reputation they built here.”

Phoenix Rising FC contributed to this story.

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