Tough Call: San Antonio FC 1, Phoenix Rising FC 0Photo courtesy of Phoenix Rising FC / Michael Rincon

Tough Call: San Antonio FC 1, Phoenix Rising FC 0

No one expected a shootout in the desert tonight, so you can’t call it a disappointment from that respect. However, a controversial call went the way of the visitors, and Phoenix Rising FC was dealt a heartbreaking 1-0 defeat to San Antonio FC. SAFC midfielder Rafa Castillo buried an 85th-minute penalty to seal the result.

In the third minute, Didier Drogba got the crowd going with a neat lofted ball into the box to old friend Shaun Wright-Phillips. SWP managed to settle briefly but couldn’t turn the ball on the net. Moments later, midfielder Jordan Gibbons made a nice slicing dribble through traffic for the Firebirds, but couldn’t find his open teammates, and ultimately had his shot blocked.

An excellent chance came for Phoenix in the 13th, when Chris Cortez, back from injury, shook the mark of San Antonio’s Greg Cochrane long enough to put a perfect ball onto the head of Drogba. The big Ivorian’s powerful header forced a diving save from goalkeeper Diego Restrepo, and Jason Johnson found Amadou Dia, whose cross into the box was cleared out.

Drogba lined up a 21-yard free kick in the 17th minute, only to have his low delivery cleared out and and a desperation shot from Blair Gavin fly high.

In the 24th, SAFC danger man Billy Forbes put on a dribbling clinic as he cut past two Firebirds on his way to the byline, earning a corner kick. Phoenix fans well remember Forbes’ ability on the ball from his long cutting run and assist on the only goal in Rising FC’s 1-0 defeat earlier this season.

Most of San Antonio’s offense in the early going came off of corner kicks, but stalwart Phoenix ‘keeper Josh Cohen and his defense were equal to the task.

On 30 minutes, Wright-Phillips broke loose in the middle of the pitch, and unfurled a laser strike that was deflected just wide. SWP’s ensuing corner kick was corralled by Restrepo.

Forbes again gave the Firebirds a scare, when in the 35th minute, he beat his mark with a run to the left side of the 18, but his low cross missed everyone, including a dangerously close AJ Ajeakwa.

Cohen came up big for Phoenix in the 41st, when he vacuumed a deflected Tyrpak shot at his near post. Phoenix would feel entitled to a chance to take the lead just before half, but a collision in Restrepo’s box was ruled a foul on Phoenix.

San Antonio’s first shot of the second stanza came in the 50th, when Phoenix defender Peter Ramage was called for a foul on a midair collision with Stephen McCarthy. Michael Reed went for goal with the ensuing free kick, but put it high.

In the 54th, Forbes sent in a whipping cross that Ramage was able to push wide and into the supporter section. The following corner kick was directly at Cohen.

Tempers flared in the 75th, when SAFC’s Tyrpak got wrapped up with recently returned Phoenix winger Alessandro Riggi. Tyrpak was issued a yellow for the play, and subsequent dissent earned cautions for Riggi and Wright-Phillips.

Castillo’s penalty came in discouraging fashion for Phoenix, when a 50-50 ball inside the Phoenix box resulted in a heavy collision between Cohen and San Antonio’s Cesar Elizondo. Elizondo spent some time on the pitch and received a late decision from center referee Mark Allatin. An otherwise excellent effort by both squads was soured by the bad behavior of a few Phoenix fans in the aftermath, and some choice return words from Elizondo himself.

Phoenix Rising FC falls to 6-7-4 on the season, and will face LA Galaxy II in Carson, Calif. next week. San Antonio FC (11-1-7) returns home to face Orange County SC.

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