Only a handful of months have passed since Arizona United SC became Phoenix Rising FC, ushering in the next chapter of soccer in the Valley of the Sun, but for those who have watched its ups and downs through the years, Saturday night felt like a long time coming.
Phoenix fell to Toronto FC II 1-0 in front of an announced crowd of 6,890 at Phoenix Rising Soccer Complex, but the environment was electric.
The brand spanking new pop-up venue between Tempe and Scottsdale, built over just 53 days, was buzzing early, though a good many of the sold-out tickets went unused through the first half, due to heavy traffic around the stadium mixed with a game-day operation still finding its feet.
“It’s amazing how quick this has been done and to see so many fans come out for our first game,” said Phoenix midfielder Matt Watson. “It’s really amazing.”
The excitement for the long-awaited season opener was palpable at kickoff, with Rising FC controlling most of the possession early.
A little bit of air went out of the atmosphere, when, in the 8th minute, Toronto’s Ryan Telfer, signed Friday, got on the end of a well-placed ball across the six-yard box from Ben Spencer, beating Phoenix goalkeeper Josh Cohen for the 1-0 lead. Spencer was freed on the play by a sublime through-ball from Jay Chapman, and capitalized by beating Rising’s J.J. Greer to the endline for the assist.
Energized, the Young Reds began to push the home side, racing to each loose ball, and looking generally more comfortable as a unit. Phoenix, for its part, looked at times woefully out of position, with new stars Omar Bravo and Shaun Wright-Phillips failing to blend with teammates on crucial passes in the final third.
“We looked a little bit disjointed,” said Rising FC head coach Frank Yallop. “It’s the first game. It’s out of our way now.”
It wasn’t all Toronto, though. Not by a long shot. In the 33rd minute, Phoenix had an excellent opportunity to equalize when Wright-Phillips made a sliding interception near the center circle and expertly slotted Mike Seth in stride. Seth charged into the box, trying to shake a defender, and perhaps took one touch too many, as the difficult angle proved too great for his thunderous shot.
Seth said after the game that he feels the chemistry on the field can improve.
“We still got to come together as one, but we had a couple opportunities,” he said. “We just needed to capitalize on some of those, going forward from here on out.”
Phoenix began the second half more brightly, but multiple efforts from the run of play fell frustratingly awry, and the 1-0 scoreline would hold.
Luke Rooney, Rising’s dynamic playmaker, sat quite deep in the contest, and while he was solid defensively, he did little in generating attack.
“Luke is another one who needs to get a little fitter and a little sharper in his game,” said Yallop.
Watson too was frustrated with the result, but upbeat about how close Phoenix is to putting the pieces together.
“We have got some stuff to work out definitely,” he said. “But I think the work was there, but that last little calm to find that last pass, that last cross, that last finish was lacking tonight, and I think that will come with time.
“There are a lot of things I could say that we need to work on, but I think if we work on chemistry first then we will find each other in the right spots.”
Rising FC returns to action next Saturday, April 1st, at Real Monarchs SLC.
Phoenix Rising FC: J. Cohen; K. Wakasa (80′ – A. Gray), J. Greer, P. Ramage, V. Vasquez; M. Watson, J. Johnson, M. Seth (61′ – C. Cortez); S. Wright-Phillips, L. Rooney (68′ – A. Riggi), O. Bravo
DNP: C. Woszczynski, U. Uzo, R. Hernandez, B. Gavin
Toronto FC II: M. Pais; O. Alseth, B. Aubrey, L. Eckenrode (70′ – B. Okony); B. James, T. Endoh (63′ – J. McCrary), M. Delgado, J. Chapman, R. Edwards; B. Spencer, R. Telfer (87′ – R. John)
DNP: A. Cavalluzzo, A. Osorio, L. Fraser