Phoenix Ris­ing FC falls short in USL Cup fi­nal

The Arizona Republic - - Nba - Justin Say­ers BRYAN WOOL­STON/SPE­CIAL TO COURIER JOUR­NAL

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Phoenix Ris­ing FC’s bid for its first United Soc­cer League cham­pi­onship came up just short.

Louisville City FC for­ward Luke Spencer’s 62nd-minute goal was the dif­fer­ence in Thurs­day’s USL Cup fi­nal. With the 1-0 vic­tory, Louisville City be­came the first team in league his­tory to win back-to-back USL Cups.

“I’ll al­ways be able to re­mem­ber watch­ing them raise their Cup. That’s a mo­ment I won’t ever for­get. It’s burned in my mem­ory,” said Phoenix head coach Rick Schantz. “It’s go­ing to be drive and de­sire and pas­sion to get back here and lift that cup our­selves.”

On a frigid night at Lynn Sta­dium on the Univer­sity of Louisville cam­pus, 7,025 fans braved the cold to watch what was a tightly con­tested match the en­tire way.

After head­ing to the half score­less, Louisville broke the tie on Spencer’s score. De­fender Os­car Jimenez served the ball into the far 18-yard box on a cor­ner kick. The ball bounced around and landed at the feet of Spencer, a for­ward, who blasted into the bot­tom left cor­ner.

“It came out to me and I got a toe on it, but I think I could have done bet­ter,” said Louisville City mid­fielder and cap­tain Paolo DelPic­colo said. “It set up re­ally nicely for Luke and he took it very, very well.”

Spencer started in place of for­ward Cameron Lan­caster, the team’s lead­ing scorer, who missed the game after suf­fer­ing a ham­string in­jury in last week’s East­ern Con­fer­ence fi­nal.

Phoenix was also play­ing with­out its lead­ing scorer, for­ward Chris Cortez, who re­port­edly also suf­fered a ham­string in­jury, this one dur­ing prac­tice.

Phoenix had a num­ber of chances to tie to­ward the end, in­clud­ing a near-bi­cy­cle kick by cap­tain Di­dier Drogba in the 89th minute. The for­mer Chelsea F.C. star, pos­si­bly play­ing in his fi­nal game, whiffed on his at­tempt off a dan­ger­ous cross.

The team had ad­di­tional op­por­tu­ni­ties to score through­out the match, in­clud­ing a few from Drogba. His best chance came in the first half, when he put a free kick on net from 10 yards in front of the half-way line.

After the game, Schantz ad­dressed the fu­ture of his star, who is also a par­towner of his team.

“We haven’t that had much of a dis­cus­sion yet. The only thing we said after the game is I apol­o­gized for not giv­ing him the cup,” Schantz said. “In true Di­dier Drogba fash­ion, he said, ‘Well done, Coach. Keep your head up.’ “

Louisville al­most scored again in the 67th minute on an in­cred­i­ble in­di­vid­ual play by Brian Ownby. The mid­fielder took the ball at his own end and dodged sev­eral de­fend­ers be­fore the ball was knocked away for a cor­ner kick in the op­pos­ing 18-yard box.

The team’s head coach, John Hack­worth, said the teams were very even, ex­cept his squad “moved the ball bet­ter than they did.”

“I thought that we were able to un­bal­ance them with our ball move­ment and also our move­ment off the ball,” Hack­worth said. “Once you move a team that much, there’s go­ing to be gaps. We al­ways talk about that — when we cre­ate space, we at­tack it. That’s ex­actly what we tried to do.”

Louisville City FC’s Paolo DelPic­colo (36) plays vs. Phoenix Ris­ing FC for­ward Ja­son John­son (14) on Thurs­day.

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