Being a centerback can be brutal. One moment can take you from having a fantastic game to a poor one, a single moment can take you from a well earned road draw to nothing. That is exactly what happened to Rodrigue Ele and Seattle Sounders 2 on a sweltering night in the Valley of the Sun that saw them fall 0-1 against an excellent Phoenix Rising FC.
The game started out a bit cagey with neither side able to really hold unto possession in their attacking third, but eventually S2 upped the height and intensity of their pressure and started to put Phoenix on the back foot. The first real chance came S2’s way when Denso Ulysse used his speed to get in behind the defense down the sideline. He then put in a very good cross, but Phoenix were just able to win the header in the box. But S2 kept up the pressure and again had the next chance of any venom in the 33’ when Henry Wingo received a pass from Shandon Hopeau at the top of the box and shaped up for a deft curler that he sent just a few feet wide.
Phoenix continued to struggle against the S2 press and were unable to get deep into their final third and when they did, perhaps unwisely, S2 fouled them and rebuffed the set piece chances. Given the results, we will call it a decent strategy.
Just before the close of the first half S2 got flurry of chances that started when David Estrada received a delicate pass from Ibrahim Usman near the spot. The forward couldn’t quite get the ball out from his feet in time and Phoenix were able to block his shot. The ball floated to Usman who had a decent look at a volley but whiffed on it. The ball found it’s way to Jesse Daley, who also had his long range effort blocked well by Phoenix. Eventually the ball recycled its way to Wingo, who attempted another curler but sent it a little to high to end a frantic minute near the Phoenix 18.
S2 were excellent in the first half and really should have scored, but a bit of bad luck and just a tiny deficit in finishing prowess saw the game stay equal through the first.
The money was on S2 wilting from inexperience and heat in the second half, and it looked like it might go that way almost immediately when Jason Johnson got in behind right on the heels of the second half kickoff. A good long ball from Joseph Farrell beat the S2 backline but Johnson’s attempt to lift the bouncing ball over Calle Brown drifted over the the top of the crossbar.
S2 weren’t fazed though and got on attacking in the 50’ minute when a nifty back heel scoop pass from halftime sub Azriel Gonzalez put Ulysse speeding towards the Phoenix goal. By the time he got there the angle was a bit tight and with no support coming he made the right choice and tried to catch the keeper out at the near post, but unfortunately sent his powerful shot a bit too high.
S2 continued to hang with Phoenix and had another chance in the 53’ when a fantastic ball from Usman went untouched as it flashed through the six, but then the unfortunate moment came in the 56’.
A nothing clearance forward saw Ele up against Chris Cortez for a header along the backline. Ele was unable to tamp down his aggression at the moment he should have and he challenged Cortez fool-heartedly in the air. Ele missed and Cortez spun off his body to put himself in one on one against Brown. The S2 keeper quickly put himself in no-mans-land and Cortez lifted the ball easily over him for the game’s first and only goal.
From there, the game went in fits and spurts as both side wore down from the heat, with the exception of Ulysse, who was still somehow making 60-yard sprints well past the 80’. Phoenix seemed mostly content to gut out the 1-0 victory but S2 did well to pick moments to pressure and threaten to equalize. Ultimately, nothing truly dangerous ever resulted from S2’s continued fight, but even the Phoenix announcers were impressed with their continued effort and quality on the ball as they tried to claw their way back to a point.
Even though it is a loss, this is a game that S2 can definitely build on. They showed themselves that they can do it without either of Ray Saari and Francisco Narbón and that they can use their quality on the ball to at least hang with bigger and more experienced USL sides. Coach Hutchinson should be proud of the effort the young kids put on under the less than ideal circumstances.