Phoenix Rising FC Scores Early To Hoist USL Western Conference Title
It was a huge, sellout crowd for the conference final between hosts Orange County SC and Phoenix Rising FC. Now, the 2018 USL Cup matchup is set, as Louisville City FC prepares to host Phoenix Rising FC on Thursday, November 8.
Phoenix Rising FC recorded a 2-1 victory over Orange County SC in an intense matchup with 5,189 supporters in attendance at Championship Soccer Stadium in Irvine, CA.
Soccer New: Phoenix Rising FC is headed to the 2018 United Soccer League (USL) Cup Final after defeating Orange County Soccer Club, 2-1, in an intense match at the Championship Soccer Stadium in Irvine, California, on Saturday night.
This was a dramatic and triumphant win. Phoenix Rising came with 10 buses, loaded with supporters wearing red, who all cheered for their team all night long. Orange County SC’s fans were also out in full force and it was a wild atmosphere.
But the man who stole the night, otherwise known as the man of the match, was none of other than Didier Drogba.
Drogba scored the second goal for Phoenix. And, it was the deciding goal.
The visitors were supported by hundreds of imported fans who could be heard chanting Drogba’s name during and after the match. As expected, Chelsea FC fans came to Southern California to get what could have been the last glimpse of a soccer legend.
“For us, we have the best fans in the league,” said Phoenix Rising FC forward Billy Forbes. “For the fans to drive six or seven hours to watch this away game … we love it and appreciate it.”
Phoenix Rising FC scored the opener in the second minute of play to give the visitors an early lead.
A quick one-two in the midfield from Kevon Lambert and Drogba led to a through-ball into the stride of Chris Cortez. The veteran forward approached the pass with confidence and sent an authoritative, left-footed strike into the back of the net.
Orange County SC did not withdraw after conceding the early goal. The hosts pressed forward and maintained possession as they looked for an equalizer. In the last 20 minutes of the half, Orange County nearly cut the deficit with numerous crosses sent into the penalty area.
Phoenix Rising FC goalkeeper Carl Woszczynski and his back-line were able to weather the storm in order to maintain the 1-0 advantage heading into half-time. Following the match, Woszczynski praised his defenders for not only their effort on the night but throughout the entire season.
“I’ve talked about it the whole season,” said Woszczynski. “My defense has been incredible in front of me.”
Orange County SC displayed their patience in the second half as they continued to look for the equalizer.
OCSC forwards Michael Seaton and Thomas Enevoldsen both had shots blocked in the 55th minute, with the succeeding corner kick deflected towards goal and collected by Woszczynski.
Drogba extended Phoenix’s lead in the 73rd minute to give the visitors a bit of breathing room. Solomon Asante played a through-ball into the penalty area to Jason Johnson who was denied by OCSC goalkeeper Andre Rawls.
The rejection by Rawls landed at the feet of Drogba who finished his second attempt after the first was blocked by OCSC defender Alex Crognale.
In the 82nd minute, Orange County SC cut the deficit by one with Koji Hashimoto on the scoring end.
A long cross into the penalty area from the left flank found Crognale who redirected the ball towards goal. An unmarked Hashimoto pounced on the ball in the six-yard box for the easy finish.
OCSC continued to knock on Phoenix’s door, but the organized defense was able to close out the match and record the road victory.
According to the USL recap: Phoenix Rising FC’s defense was undone with eight minutes to go, but for almost all the game before and after Koji Hashimoto’s goal for the hosts, the visitors were impressive in their work-rate that held the Orange County trio of Aodhan Quinn, Thomas Enevoldsen and Michael Seaton off the scoresheet on the night.
The celebration quickly commenced with Phoenix fans storming the pitch.
During the ceremony, Phoenix Rising FC hoisted and celebrated the USL Western Conference Championship with its vocal supporters that traveled from Arizona.
Woszczynski expressed the joy of hoisting his first professional trophy, while also joking about Drogba’s expertise.
“It’s my first professional cup that I have won – it’s awesome,” said Woszczynski. “We were joking with Didier Drogba that he has the ‘cup pose’ down already, but for some of us, it’s the first chance. It doesn’t come every year and for a lot of professionals, you never win anything.”
Despite the loss, Orange County SC did not hang their heads low. This is a team that left it all on the field and will now look ahead to the next season.
2’ – PHX – Chris Cortez (Kevon Lambert)
73’ – PHX – Didier Drogba
82’ – OC – Koji Hashimoto
“Although we came up a little short at the end, it was a good year,” said OCSC defender Kevin Alston. “We can be proud of the season and performances that we put together. I think this was a big growing point for the club.”
Orange County SC head coach Braeden Cloutier praised his players for their efforts during the 2018 season.
“Our team never gives up,” said Cloutier. “At the end, we gave ourselves an opportunity to extend it into overtime. We had a fantastic season with a deep run in playoffs. I am just so proud of our team and what we have done. We have a tremendous future.”
Phoenix Rising FC will take on defending champions Louisville City FC in the 2018 USL Cup final on Thursday, November 8, at Lynn Stadium in Kentucky. The match will air on ESPN2 at 8 p.m. ET.
Photo Credit: Chris Rael