FC Tucson midfielder Conner Bevans wasn’t sure if he’d play against Phoenix FC on Tuesday night. In the end he proved to be the hero as the team upended their in-state professional rivals, 2-1.
After the team’s weekend draw with the Los Angeles Misioneros, the Gonzaga University man stayed behind to spend time with his grandmother, who is in poor health. Despite the coaching staff’s willingness to let him tend to family matters, Bevans flew in Tuesday morning and was seated on the bench hours later. He entered the match in the 81st minute with his team trailing 1-0.
The 18-year-old midfielder scored two goals, including a stoppage-time winner to lift FC Tucson to a 2-1 victory in the First Round of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup.
“I knew we were in a tough spot when I came into the game, and they were bringing me on to change it, so I was looking forward and trying to focus on getting the result for my team,” Bevans said.
Tucson found itself in that tough spot in the 63rd minute despite controlling the run of play for the majority of the first half. Diego Faria, one of Phoenix’s trio of Brazilians, opened the scoring with a sensational volley. Substitute Aaron King put in a cross from the right side of the box, which Faria blasted past Tucson keeper Dallas Jaye.
Just two minutes later the home side missed an opportunity to hit back when Connor Brandt had an unmarked shot from the top of the box after Tucson had worked it around. His effort went over the bar. It looked to be the best chance they’d have to level the match.
Then, the PDL side came to life in the final 10 minutes. Bevans put a ball into the box with his first touch of the match. Phoenix keeper Sheldon Parkinson seemed to have it his hands, but the ball squirted out and across the line for the equalizer in the 82nd minute.
“It was a goal,” Bevans said with a grin when asked if the ball was meant to be a shot or a cross.
After the equalizer, the crowd of nearly 1,000 rallied behind FC Tucson, and the home side responded with a series of attacks. They seemed to have it won when Wolves center back Renan Boufleur was whistled for a penalty in the 87th minute. Saeed Robinson, who had turned in a Man of the Match performance stepped up to take the spot kick and blasted the effort off the crossbar.
Though the game seemed destined for extra time, Robinson keyed one more attack with just a minute of stoppage time remaining and drew several defenders to him atop the area. That allowed him to slot the ball to his left where Bevans rushed forward unmarked. Bevans hit it with the outside of his foot into the net. After the match, he said he let his training take over in that pivotal moment.
“That was one of those ones where it’s kind of rolling slow and you know you’re supposed to finish ‘em. One of those big-time moments where you needed to be big, and I just tried not to think about it, and I just did what I naturally do,” he said. “I think that (Robinson) holding onto it the way he did made everybody step to him because if they didn’t he would’ve had the open shot. Then, I saw him and I just delayed my run a little bit. He dropped it off, and boom. There it is.”
Bevans played just 25 minute against LA, and Rick Schantz wouldn’t have been expected to play him after flying in that morning. But the Tucson coach decided to bring Bevans in because of Brandt’s strong play.
“I had said after the 35th minute (of the second half), we’ve got to think about taking a defender out and putting in another midfielder. Conor Brandt had been playing so well. We moved him into the central mid and put Bevans on the right. And boy…I looked like a genius, didn’t I?” Schantz said, laughing. “It was a great goal. He did well.”
Phoenix FC coaches and players did not speak to media after the match.
The excitement erupted in the last 10 minutes after a game that had been mostly uneventful to that point. Neither team could break through in the first half, though both had opportunities. Tucson’s best chance came just before the halftime whistle when Robinson beat Parkinson to a through ball, but his shot was kicked off the line by Wolves center back Cyprian Hedrick.
Phoenix could’ve gotten an early lead from forward Travis Bowen, whose header beat Jaye, goalkeeper for the Guam national team, in the 11th minute, but it was cleared off the line by defender Tim Harbison.
Parkinson was called into action several times in the opening period, but Tucson forward Dakota Collins was unable to finish any of his opportunities, including a one-on-one with the Phoenix keeper in the 28th minute.
The loss means Phoenix is winless in its last five matches and has nine days to stew in the defeat.
Though the 1-1 draw in LA was Tucson’s only match so far this season, Schantz said the extra time actually might have helped his club advance to play the San Antonio Scorpions in Texas on May 21.
“We were very fortunate that we’ve been watching Phoenix play every game, and we’ve gotten a lot of scouts on them. I spent a lot of time on the phone and on the computer and working real hard to put a game plan together for the guys. Once that whistle blows, I don’t have anything to do with it. They worked so hard. I was so impressed with that performance tonight. I think it was deserved.”