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Rising score last-minute goal to beat Loyal 4-3, advance to semi’s

© Joe Rondone/The Republic / USA TODAY NETWORK

In one of the most dramatic games of the USL 2023 campaign as a whole, Phoenix Rising pulled off a 4-3 win on Oct. 22, in the dying moments of extra-time against San Diego Loyal SC to advance to the Western Conference Semifinals.

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Before they kicked-off at Torero Stadium in San Diego, Phoenix came into the game winless in their last five games with a 0-3-2 record.

As for the Loyal, they were unbeaten in six games as they were 4-2-0.

Finishing in 3rd in the Western Conference, San Diego finished with a 16-9-9 record while the Rising were 6th and 12-12-10 in the regular season.

Last night, however, all the statistics were thrown out of the window as it was playoff time in the USL quarterfinal.

First Half

Coming into the game, the Loyal were the favorites and they started right on-time.

In the 5th minute of the game, San Diego midfielder Joe Corona whipped a pass into the Rising’s box.

Challenging for the ball, Phoenix center-back John Stenberg was in a foot-race with Loyal forward Ronaldo Damus.

Then, Stenberg couldn’t intercept the ball and Damus slotted it into the bottom-left corner of the goal and San Diego took a 1-0 lead.

As the first half wore on, the Rising were handed a penalty opportunity.

At midfield, Phoenix forward Dariusz Formella lobbed the ball into the Loyal’s box for teammate Danny Trejo.

All of a sudden, Trejo was pulled down by San Diego player Adrien Perez.

Few seconds later, the referee awarded the Rising with a penalty kick.

Slowly, Phoenix midfielder Panos Armenakas did a stutter step before fooling Loyal goalkeeper Koke Vegas into going right as the shot went left and the game would be tied 1-1 in the 19th minute.

Responding, Damus would get his second goal of the match in the 25th minute to reclaim San Diego’s advantage, 2-1.

Trying to score again, Armenakas fired the ball off the right post before Formella’s rebound hit the left post in the 31st minute.

Moments after, Rising midfielder Carlos Harvey launched the ball from his team’s half.

Conveniently, the pass went all the way to Trejo’s feet in-front of the goal and tapped the ball into the back of the net to knot the score 2-2 in 42nd minute.

Just before the first-45 minutes ended, Formella would have an opportunity that just missed wide.

Second Half

Phoenix saw San Diego score early in the first half, so they did the same, but in the second.

Out wide on the right, Armenakas sent a through pass to Rising captain Darnell King.

Maneuvering, King tried to cut around two Loyal defenders and had enough space to find a trailing Formella who capitalized as he finished past Vegas and Phoenix gained their first lead of the night, 3-2.

There were a few chances as the second half progressed and the Rising looked like they would hold on for the win.

But in stoppage time, a costly mistake was made.

Inside the Rising’s box, defender Mohamed Traore took Loyal substitute Tumi Moshobane down in the 95th minute.

Clearly distraught, Traore pled his case that it wasn’t a penalty, but the ref blew his whistle and said it was.

With the game on the line, Damus would attempt to get a hat-trick.

Closely, Phoenix goalkeeper Rocco Ríos Novo went the right way Damus shot, but the ball went just under him.

With the penalty converted, the Loyal tied the game at 3-3 with two minutes left in the game.

Extra Time

With the equalizing goal, both teams would go to extra time to decide a winner.

Two chances by the Loyal to finish off the game were saved by Ríos Novo.

In the last minute of the extra-30 minutes, the Rising went on a counterattack.

As their last chance, Phoenix substitute Manuel Arteaga found Formella out on the right of the Loyal’s goal.

Having already scored once, Formella curled back behind a San Diego defender and the unthinkable happened.

Seeing Vegas far from the net, Formella would audaciously chip it over the goalkeeper and ultimately won the game 4-3.

Postgame Notes

At the end of an offensive night, Phoenix came out on top.

Both teams had 18 shots each, but the Rising had 9 on-target while San Diego recorded 7.

In possession, Phoenix had a slight edge with 52% of the ball.

With 3 goals from Damus, those 3 are also the last goals scored for San Diego as a USL franchise.

After 4 seasons in the USL, the Loyal’s existence as a soccer club will be no more as the MLS announced San Diego FC would be a new team in their league.

Meanwhile, Formella’s second goal of the game sent the Rising to the USL Western Conference Semifinal.

There, Phoenix will make a short trip in California to play second-seeded Orange County SC on Oct. 28 at 7 p.m.

Phoenix Rising at San Diego Loyal Playoff Preview

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Alec Cipollini is a journalist covering the Arizona Coyotes, Cardinals and Phoenix Rising for Burn City Sports. You can follow him on his X account @AlecCipollini

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