Players from Sporting AZ (blue) and FC Arizona challenge for the ball in the 2018 US Open Cup. Photo: Arianna Grainey
Two Phoenix teams separated by fewer than 20 miles squared off in the First Round of the 2018 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup. Sporting AZ FC of the United Premier Soccer League (UPSL) got the better of the National Premier Soccer League’s (NPSL) FC Arizona with a 1-0 win in the tournament debut for both clubs.
A single goal in the 72nd minute by Sporting captain Jon Guse sealed the deal for Sporting AZ. The game-winning goal came off a scramble in front of the goal following a corner kick.
It was a physical match between two teams that are not only competing for fans in the same metropolitan area, but for talent on the field. Several players on the Sporting AZ roster played for FC Arizona last year, and Sporting head coach Aidan Davison was on the FC Arizona sideline last year. This added to the drama of the first meeting between these two clubs.
As the match progressed, each side traded possession for some time, and led to numerous chances for both sides. As both teams had shots that hit the post in the first half.
Sporting AZ coach Aidan Davison summed up the match performance as “ugly, but effective,” noting that “…with cup soccer, it’s about getting to the next round.”
In a post-game interview, Guse mentioned that the difference in the second half came from pushing up and pressing on the defense, and it helped create more chances. As the game wore on, that press gave Sporting AZ some notable chances, such as a 3-on-2 counter cut off in the penalty box in the 89th minute.
Aside from the FC Arizona players that defected to Sporting AZ, the NPSL side was also missing six starters due to being cup tied because they took part in the US Open Cup’s open division qualifying tournament. According to the tournament rules that were put in place a few years ago, any player who appears in a qualifying game is cup-tied with that club for the remainder of the tournament, through to the US Open Cup Final.
“It’s tough at this level to be missing six starters,” FC Arizona head coach Maxi Viera. “It’s been a weird year, we deserve to win some games but haven’t. But today I am not going to take anything away from Sporting … They deserve to win.”
Sporting AZ FC will look to balance their schedule with an added home game against Phoenix Rising FC, where the USL side will make a trip across the east valley to Campo Verde High School in Gilbert, to play the Second Round matchup on May 16.
Arianna Grainey also contributed to this report