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Timely Returns Boost Rising FC

By NICHOLAS MURRAY -, 09/03/17, 1:04PM EDT


Dia, Cohen play starring roles as Phoenix moved into top eight

Photo courtesy Michael Rincon / Phoenix Rising FC

PHOENIX – Phoenix Rising FC had threatened regularly over the opening 70 minutes of its contest against Seattle Sounders FC 2 on Saturday night, but Head Coach Patrice Carteron’s side had yet to find the breakthrough in a crucial contest in the USL Western Conference’s playoff race.

Thanks to the introduction of first Amadou Dia, and then AJ Gray, Phoenix created the tactical adjustment it needed to earn a 2-0 victory that moved the side into the eighth and final playoff position in front of 6,150 fans at the Phoenix Rising Soccer Complex.

“Dia is a left back but he is very good offensively,” said Carteron. “I had the feeling on the side we could have some more opportunity to score and I wanted to give more freedom to Jason Johnson and Chris Cortez.”

The decisive moment for the two substitutes arrived with 12 minutes to go. After Gray picked up possession on the right side, he drove into the penalty area to try and force an opportunity. His low shot deflected off the boot of S2 defender Brian Nana-Sinkam as he tried to block the effort, but instead the ball caromed across the penalty area to allow Dia – who had snuck in on the opposite side unmarked – to finish.

“I saw that he was either going to shoot far post or drive it low to the back so I tried to get in a position where I could either get the rebound or have an easy tap in,” said Dia. “Luckily I ended up getting both so it was alright.”

The goal was the third for Dia since arriving with Rising FC in June. After also recording an assist in his debut soon after his arrival, the former Sporting Kansas City player has been hampered by some injuries. Getting back out onto the field and playing a role in Saturday’s big win was a big morale boost for the 24-year-old.

“It’s always hard when you’re not playing but you want to play, you want to get those minutes and stuff but it’s part of the game,” said Dia. “You can’t have a bad attitude. You’ve got to stay positive and do whatever your team needs you to do, and then when your chance comes like mine did tonight you’ve got to take advantage of it and then just keep going from there.”

The night also saw a return to action for goalkeeper Josh Cohen, who recorded his first home shutout of the season in the victory. Finishing with three saves, including a standout stoppage-time stop on Ray Saari before Jason Johnson put the game away with Phoenix’s second goal of the night in the 94th minute, Cohen was delighted to make a good comeback.

“Yeah it definitely felt good to get back on the field,” said Cohen. “Fantastic effort here tonight. We put together two back to back wins, both at home. We finally got that elusive home shut out, and I’m feeling great right now.”

Photo courtesy Michael Rincon / Phoenix Rising FC

While Rising FC is now in the top eight, there remains plenty of work to be done to lock down a postseason spot. With a challenging week ahead that sees the side face two fellow postseason contenders – hosting Orange County SC on Wednesday in the USL Game of the Week on ESPN3 before visiting Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC next Saturday – the side is determined to squeeze everything it can out of the next week.

With the return of Didier Drogba from injury drawing near, according to Carteron, another timely boost like the ones provided by Dia and Cohen on Saturday night could help push Phoenix to its first postseason berth.

“Another great game for us in three days,” said Carteron. “We spend a lot of time with our staff for all of our players to be ready; tonight Dia was ready, AJ [Gray] was ready, Sam Hamilton was ready so we will take the time [Sunday] morning to who is able to start the next game, but we also have some fresh blood.”

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