Photo courtesy Michael Rincon / Phoenix Rising FC
PHOENIX – Making his first start since August 5, Didier Drogba wasted little time in showing he was ready to drive Phoenix Rising FC's bid for a top-four finish in the USL Western Conference.
A pair of goals in Phoenix's dramatic 4-3 victory against Tulsa Roughnecks FC in front of 5,681 fans at the Phoenix Rising Soccer Complex was complemented by Drogba’s leadership, which was on display throughout the match as he rallied his side to come back from an early two-goal deficit.
After missing out on the side clinching its first trip to the USL Cup Playoffs seven days earlier against the Portland Timbers 2, Drogba seemed determined to lift some of the attacking burden from the rest of the team in his return to the starting lineup.
“He is giving the team his leadership, his charisma and it is important for us to have some fresh blood,” said Phoenix Head Coach Patrice Carteron, whose side entered its ninth game since the start of August on Wednesday. “As I said a few weeks ago, it was fantastic for us [to go on a run and clinch a playoff berth] because Didier was not there and the team did very good things. So right now, he is back and I’m sure he will be very motivated for us to do something fantastic during the end of the season.”
As happy as Drogba was to notch his sixth and seventh goals of the season, he was also disappointed that the side put itself into an early hole as the Roughnecks raced out to an early lead. After this past Saturday's loss to Sacramento Republic FC, it wasn't the immediate response the former Ivory Coast international had been hoping for from the side, but the manner in which his teammates stepped up to get out of the deficit was a big plus.
“It feels good to score but we conceded three,” said Drogba. “The attention has dropped a little bit but I think we’re going to be ready when the playoffs start. It’s good to show character to come back from 2-0 to 4-3. Good team spirit and a good win.”
It had been a long break for Drogba, with the match proving his first start since scoring a standout finish against the LA Galaxy II almost two months ago. With the playoffs less than two weeks away, he was pleased to get back on the park.
“It’s good, it’s great. You could see it was difficult to start but I felt good as we were going through the game so I’m happy,” said Drogba. “The plan was to go one hour, but I felt good and we were talking, communicating with the manager and there was a situation where the play given was down at times so he asked me if I could carry on and I said yes so I finished the game.”
With the win Phoenix is now only three points back of the three teams sitting between second and fourth place in the Western Conference. While the side will need help to overtake one of Reno 1868 FC, the Swope Park Rangers and San Antonio FC, the schedule stacks up favorably to take advantage should the opportunity arise. Two home games against Rio Grande Valley FC and the Portland Timbers 2, both of whom have been eliminated from playoff contention, is all that's left for Rising FC in the regular season, with its fellow contenders facing tougher contests over the next 10 days.
With Jason Johnson also continuing his strong run of recent form with a pair of goals as well on Wednesday night, and other key pieces like Alessandro Riggi ready to chip in as well, Phoenix is aiming to keep the pressure on.
“The good news is that tonight offensively we were very good. Didier [Drogba] is back, scored goals. Most of the offensive players did well and some players on the bench were also fantastic, like Chris Cortez, Riggi," said Carteron. "[It's] very positive for the Saturday game against Rio Grande but in football we never know. It’s important for us. It was important for us to win tonight and put pressure on the team in front of us.”