San Diego stuns Phoenix, keeps playoff hopes alive.
With hopes of a playoff birth hanging on by a thread, San Diego needed to do something most teams do not. Win in Phoenix. Phoenix had not lost a match at home this season. They also have had a stellar home record dating back several years, losing just 7 in 55 since 2017. San Diego had a tall task to get three points, but with the team riding a win streak of their own, they were up for it.
Very early on it looked like San Diego was the better team. Phoenix came out flat and lacked energy, where San Diego looked lively. It was the opposite the first time these teams met. San Diego took the game to Phoenix. It was in just the 3rd minute, when Jack Metcalf creatively found Rubio Rubin in the box, Rubin took the pass and his shot found the far post and it kissed the ball into the net to put the visitors up a goal. Phoenix looked stunned and Loyal was on a roll.
It took less than 10 minutes for Loyal to get another goal. Again it was Rubio Rubin. This time it was a little bit more of an individual effort. After a Phoenix defender fell over, Rubin found space but also two defenders. He dribbled at one and waited until just enough space was there to curl the ball between them and around Phoenix keeper Zac Lubin. This put Loyal up 2-0 in just the 12th minute of play.
Phoenix did rally at times, but the combination of good defending and great goalkeeping by Jon Kempin, kept Loyal in front against a very potent Phoenix Rising team. In the 23rd minute, Phoenix’s Santi Moar found himself alone in the box with just Kempin in his way. Kempin quickly closed the space and got enough of the ball to force it wide.
The 41st minute saw Rising get one back, and who else would score but Junior Flemmings. Flemmings has been quite good for Phoenix and has taken over the goal scoring output from Solomon Asante who has been dealing with injuries this season. This goal was Flemmings 50th career goal.
Just when everyone thought that it would be a 2-1, Rubio Rubin insured a two goal lead going into the half. In the fourth minute of stoppage time he put on another beautiful individual display. Miguel Berry gave him the ball 30 yards or so from the box. He took on several Phoenix defenders, dribbled his way into a very dangerous area and put his shot on goal. It took a slight deflection, but fell into the back of the net to put Loyal up 3-1. Rubin’s hat trick is the first for San Diego Loyal. If Phoenix wanted to “kill their will”, it certainly wasn’t working.
The second half was more Phoenix than anything as San Diego looked content to defend. They have one of the best defensive records in the USL, so they scored 3 in the first and looked to keep Phoenix off the board in the second.
They did that for most of the second half. They defended well and as a unit. Kempin helped make some key plays, but the stress level of the game kept going up.
There was a bit of controversy in the 83rd minute. Phoenix had a free kick, but on the restart, the ball hit the referee. Play continued for a few seconds, but that is all that it took for Phoenix to move the ball down the field and score. The ball was almost cleared off the line and play stopped. The referee pulled the ball back to the previous restart spot based on how the restart rules were supposed to be enforced. A ball that hits an official is “out of play” if it leads to a goal scoring opportunity or directly to a goal. While this did lead to a lot of confusion about whether or not the goal counted and why, the correct rule was applied and San Diego remained up two goals.
This did not stay for very long. It was again Flemmings who stepped up for Phoenix. Jon Kempin, who had to be subbed off because of an injury, was replaced with Jake Fenlason. On a quick corner kick in the 89th minutes, Fenlason came out to try and punch the ball away, but Flemmings rose up to beat him to it and get a goal.
San Diego did look to answer back in the 90th minute, when a cross came in and was headed back across the goal, but it was called off for offside.
There was 10 minutes of stoppage time, mostly because of the injury to Kempin. This added even more stress as Phoenix kept attacking and attacking, but San Diego held on and walked out of Casino Arizona field with a huge 3 points, a big win against a tough opponent, and most importantly they kept their playoff hopes alive.
San Diego currently sits 2nd in the group by one point, but LA has two games in hand. Orange County also trails San Diego by a point but only has one game in hand. These last two matches are essentially playoff matches. San Diego cannot control their own destiny and will need help to get in, but they are doing everything they can. They are on a 3 game win streak, and haven’t lost in their last 5 matches.
San Diego has a short week and will face off against Los Angeles Galaxy II. The game will be at Dignity Health Sports Park and kick off time is 7:00 pm.
3’: Rubio Rubin (Jack Metcalf)
12’: Rubio Rubin (Alejandro Guido)
41’: Junior Flemmings (Santi Moar)
45+4’: Rubio Rubin (Miguel Berry)
89’: Junior Flemmings (Santi Moar)