Players from Sporting AZ celebrate during the club’s 2018 US Open Cup match against Phoenix Rising. Photo: Sporting AZ FC
Sporting AZ FC was anything but favored against USL side Phoenix Rising in the second round of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup Wednesday night. However, Sporting AZ found itself on the right side of a 5-4 penalty shootout to continue its Cinderella run through the tournament.
Sporting AZ defender Eijin Kishimoto rifled a shot to the bottom left corner of the goal, causing an eruption of cheers from teammates and fans.
Even so, those same fans were biting their nails throughout the contest as Phoenix Rising hit its opponent with a relentless bombardment of offensive attacks. After the first 15 minutes of the match, Rising pushed Sporting AZ’s defense to a near collapse.
Phoenix Rising’s Kevaughn Frater, Chris Cortez and Alessandro Riggi slowly but surely maneuvered their way through their opponent’s tight defensive formation.
In the 64th minute, Sporting AZ’s defense reached its breaking point when Cortez got behind a couple defenders to find the back of the net.
“We were the underdogs and wanted to fight,” said Sporting AZ midfielder Danny Arrubla. “And have that Cinderella story keep going throughout the Open Cup.”
The only reason that story continues is because Arrubla wasted merely three minutes to even the score.
Nevertheless, it wasn’t a ridiculously heavy push from the midfielders and forwards to carry out the attack. Instead, Sporting AZ kept to its game plan that proved successful for the first 63 minutes – counter attack.
After finding themselves knotted up at one a piece with less than 25 minutes to play, exhaustion began to set in. Multiple substitutions were made, and neither teams’ coaches appeared too pleased with their squads’ offensive display.
It wasn’t until the allotted 90 minutes of regular time was up till the pace picked up again.
“We just worked 15 by 15,” said Sporting AZ forward Ryan Flood. “We set it out, and we said you know what ‘we’re going to grind for 15 minutes and put ourselves in a good position’.”
The team once known as the Arizona Sahuaros had a chance in the 110th minute when Tony Cascio split two defenders on a run up the middle. Except, his attempt didn’t bear any fruit.
Sporting AZ again had an opportunity to secure an edge in the 112th minute on a free kick from roughly 35 yards out. The ball ended up in the dirt past the far right post.
After Sporting AZ failed to capture a lead, Phoenix Rising got its chance in the 118th minute on a free kick awarded after a handball.
“(Our defenders are) tough guys,” said assistant coach Tom Hurdle. “They will put their heads in there at the last minute, and they’ll do whatever it takes to clear a ball. I wasn’t particularly worried, because I know they’d been doing it for the previous 118 minutes anyways.”
A cross was launched to the back post where it appeared to be headed in by a Rising player. Phoenix’s bench rose to its feet and cheered – a little too early.
The header didn’t connect with the back of the net. Rather, it just missed the bottom left corner.
With neither team able to prove victorious after 120 minutes and change, it was time for a penalty shootout.
Phoenix Rising missed the first and sixth attempt. On the other side, Sporting AZ nailed five of their six shots, all but one finishing in the bottom left corner of the goal.
Sporting AZ will play Fresno FC of the USL next week in the Third Round of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup.