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Phoenix Rising knock-out Orange County SC 2-1, head to USL Western Conference Final

© Joe Rondone/The Republic / USA TODAY NETWORK

Continuing on their playoff “Cinderella Story,” Phoenix Rising were propelled by yet another extra time winning goal to seal their advancement to the USL Western Conference Final as they beat Orange County SC 2-1 on Oct. 28.

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Thanks to a 119th minute goal by Rising forward Dariusz Formella on Oct. 22, the sixth-seeded USL club from the valley claimed a 4-3 win against #3 in the conference, the San Diego Loyal, in the quarterfinals.

Moving forward, Phoenix had to make another Californian trip to Irvine and play Orange County who were 2nd.

Additionally, Orange County was riding on a four-game winning streak coming into the semifinal matchup.

In the season series, the Rising were 1-0-1 against Orange County, so the game could have gone either way.

And it did, to the death again.

First Half

Last week against San Diego, Phoenix gave up an early goal in the first-six minutes.

Last night, however, the Rising got on the board first, but in the 7th.

From midfield, Phoenix’s Carlos Harvey sent a long pass to teammate Danny Trejo who was between two Orange County defenders.

Falling to his feet, Trejo would control the ball before squeezing his way by both and brushed the arm of OC center back Dillon Powers to slide the ball into the net for a 1-0 Rising lead.

Ever since the goal by Phoenix, Orange County had a prime opportunity to equalize before a second one did.

10 minutes later, Orange County winger Milan Iloski hit the crossbar after beating Rising goalkeeper Rocco Rios Novo.

Then, OC forward Thomas Amang would tap-in the tying goal after receiving a pass in front of the net by left-back Ryan Doghman in the 24th minute for a 1-1 score.

Orange County would have a few more chances by Amang and Iloski, but they missed wide as the half ended 1-1.

Second Half and Extra Time

Not much happened in the second half besides Phoenix defender Mohamed Traore scoring in the 83rd minute, but it was ruled offsides.

Out wide, Rising defender Eddie Munjoma sent a cross into the box for Traore, but Munjoma was the one who was off.

Afterwards, the second half would wrap up before a second-straight game for the Rising that would have to be decided in extra time.

Audaciously, Iloski would try to pull-off a bicycle kick with the ball in the air, but just missed the goal.

Furthermore, that shot marked the 15th attempt from Orange County in the 95 minutes of play to that point.

With time dwindling down, a familiar face punished Orange County yet again.

On Sept. 30, Iloski scored what looked like the only goal in the last game between these two sides.

But, in the 85th minute, Rising midfielder Emil Cuello fired a shot from long-range and tied the game 1-1 to rescue a point for Phoenix.

Fast forward to the playoffs, Cuello would capitalize late again in the 116th minute.

Quickly, Phoenix substitute Erickson Gallardo would pass the ball to Cuello.

Looking up, Cuello entered Orange County’s box, shot at the middle of the goal and beat OC goalkeeper Colin Shutler.

The ball hit the back of the twine and Cuello punched the Rising’s ticket to the Western Conference Final.

Blowing his whistle, the referee indicated the end of the game and the Rising players let out their emotions after progressing further in the postseason.

Postgame Notes

Even with the loss, Orange County didn’t go down without a fight.

Nearly doubling, OC had 17 shot attempts while Phoenix would record 9, with at least 5 from Iloski alone.

Moreover, the Rising did have more shots-on-target, 4-3.

Also, Phoenix led in possession with 60% of the ball.

Ironically, this is the first time that the Rising clinched a berth in the Western Conference finals since 2019 when they also beat OC at Championship Soccer Stadium in Irvine.

Now, Phoenix head to yet another Californian city as they will face the best team in the USL Western Conference, Sacramento Republic SC, at Heart Health Park on Nov. 4 at 7 p.m.

Whoever wins, they will represent the West in the USL Championship Final.

Phoenix Rising at Orange County SC: USL Semifinal 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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