Shaun Wright-Phillips was one of the big-name player signings for Phoenix Rising FC before the season, yet in 10 chances going into Saturday, the forward had yet to find the back of the net.
That changed in dramatic fashion. The English native scored just before the final whistle in extra time to give Rising a 2-1 win over OKC Energy FC.
The goal, off a Chris Cortez assist, came moments after the Energy had drawn even on a penalty kick from Kyle Hyland in extra time. What looked like a win was headed for a frustrating draw, until Wright-Phillips’ 95th-minute heroics gave the crowd of 6,259 a reason to wildly celebrate.
“It’s something we needed,” Wright-Phillips said. “Apart from the penalty, we actually did everything we’ve worked on from training and thankfully we got the result that we wanted.”
Jason Johnson came off the bench after two key injuries and scored the first goal of the match in the 50th minute. Phoenix Rising FC finish off a four-game home stand with three wins following Saturday night’s 1-0 defeat of OKC Energy FC.
The victory was an important one for Rising (3-3-0), which bounced back from a 4-0 loss to previously winless Reno 1868 FC last weekend.
Johnson was a factor for much of the night, sliding into a forward role in the second half. His goal came after a buildup and pass from defender Kody Wakasa. Johnson got free with a nutmeg and curled a low shot past OKC goalkeeper Cody Laurendi.
“We have a very strong squad of 25 players. I feel like anybody on the bench could have started and done the same job I’ve done,” Johnson said. “But my name was called and I’m very happy that I could come up with a goal.”
Rising lost two important players in midfielder Luke Rooney in the 25th minute with a right knee injury, and playmaking midfielder Alessandro Riggi, who could not put any weight on his right knee after going down in the 28th minute.
Rooney, who has started four of five games and leads the club with three goals, was injured in the 19th minute and came off the pitch for medical attention. He returned to the field and tried to continue playing, but after a few seconds of running he shook his head in disgust and went back to the bench.
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Miguel Timm replaced Rooney for his first action of the season.
Riggi, a speedster with a goal to his credit this season, was injured moments later in what appeared to be non-contact fashion. Riggs needed trainers’ help to get off the pitch, and the situation forced interim coach Rick Schantz to use his second of three allowed substitutions early the game.
Riggi and Rooney will get MRIs and results will be known Monday or Tuesday, Schantz said
Johnson came on for Riggi and made an impact quickly. His 33rd-minute cross into the box just missed Omar Bravo for what would have been a header on target.
In the 36th minute, a high ball for Johnson was in a good spot, but an Energy defender pushed Johnson in the back to alter the attempted header and no foul was whistled, which would have given Phoenix Rising a penalty kick.
Rising’s defense was tested after the goal. Jordan Stewart blocked a Hyland header in the 55th minute, and OKC forward Miguel Gonzalez had his shot hit the post in the 61st. Gonzalez also had a shot saved by Phoenix goalkeeper Josh Cohen later in the second half.
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Cohen had two saves.
Rising had a quality chance to take a two-goal lead with Bravo’s pinpoint corner kick to Cortez in the 80th minute, but Laurendi saved the header.
Bravo drew a foul in the 88th minute and curved a free kick just wide left of the goal. Cohen stopped a low line drive from Alex Dixon in the 90th minute before defender J.J. Greer’s foul in the box in the 92nd minute.
“As soon as we got scored on… Matt Watson took off dribbling, and we talked about it all week, about not giving up and playing until the very end. When Shaun got the ball at that angle, I was so fortunate to be where I was sitting because I could see it so perfect,” Schantz said. “I knew they would come out and it would be a different performance this week.”
Energy FC (1-4-1) has scored just four goals in its first six matches.
Rising player-part-owner Didier Drogba attended but did not dress for the match, and it appears more likely that he will make his on-field debut when Phoenix is on the road. Drogba is still working himself into playing shape.
Phoenix hits the road for its next four games, with a non-league U.S. Open Cup match on Wednesday against the fourth-division Fresno Fuego in California. The next USL game is May 20 at league-leading San Antonio FC. Rising’s next home game is June 10 against Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2.