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Punched out: Phoenix Rising 1, Sacramento Republic 0

One moment ends Sac Republic’s season in heartbreaking fashion.

Courtesy of Phoenix Rising FC.

Sacramento Republic FC held Phoenix Rising FC scoreless for an incredible 113 minutes, but a late concession in extra time means Phoenix won the teams’ USL Championship playoffs quarterfinal match Saturday at Casino Arizona Field by a 1-0 scoreline.

Solomon Asante had the vital goal in the 114th minute to send the home side through, with Sacramento playing a valiant game but coming up short with no goal scored on the night.

Mark Briggs went with experience in defense on the night, with Shannon Gomez getting the start at left back, Juan Barahona not on the roster at all for the night. Dekel Keinan and Tomas Hilliard-Arce started in defense, Hayden Sargis remaining on the bench, and Jordan McCrary was in his usual right back spot. Rodrigo Lopez nominally played as the No. 10, with Jaime Villarreal and Andrew Wheeler-Omiunu in midfield with him, Drew Skundrich on the bench. Sam Werner wasn’t in the squad, with Cameron Iwasa and Frank Lopez available on the bench, Kharlton Belmar starting alongside Villyan Bijev and Darek Formella.

Phoenix had two good free kicks in the opening 15 minutes, but couldn’t get a shot properly on target on either occasion, to Sac Republic’s relief, the first clanging off the post and the other going just over the goal.

Sacramento had a great buildup and got a great shot on goal in the 23rd minute, with Formella’s low effort forcing a kick save from Phoenix goalkeeper Zac Lubin to keep it scoreless.

The game got chippy as the first half wound down, with yellow cards handed out to both teams and players getting hurt, although no one was forced out of the game. The teams went into the break tied at 0-0, a scoreline that was certainly good for Sac Republic.

It was more of the same in the second half, with the game being played mostly in the middle third and with Sacramento having the better buildup in attack. They were dealt a blow just before the hour mark, with a knock to Gomez forcing him out of the game, Matt Mahoney coming into the game with both teams looking for the breakthrough.

Phoenix started ramping up the intensity after the hour mark and penned Sacramento into their end, but Republic FC were up to the challenge.

Skundrich replaced Rodrigo Lopez for the final 16 minutes of regulation, as both sides continued to look for an opening and stay buttoned up in the back.

Briggs only made two subs in regulation, Phoenix coach Blair Gavin made only one, and the teams went to 30 minutes of extra time after it ended 0-0 through 90 minutes, the teams each posting only one shot on target in that span.

Formella nearly scored a volley in the 95th minute, after some nice link-up play led to Belmar to flick the ball over to the Polish attacker in the box, his audacious shot sailing just over the goal.

A few minutes later, Phoenix had a cross that sailed right across the goalmouth and back, with the ball somehow staying out of the net.

Phoenix had a couple better looks after that, with Rafael Diaz pressed into service in Republic FC’s goal.

Phoenix finally found the breakthrough in the 114th minute. Santi Moar had a dribble in the box, turned the corner and got a shot off in traffic. The ball deflected off Solomon Asante and went in the net and the home side had a 1-0 lead. Turns out Asante’s shot was a literal punch, the ball coming off his hand.

Briggs finally brought on attacking subs immediately afterwards, with both Iwasa and Frank Lopez taking the field.

It’s a gut punch result. Sacramento Republic played a nearly flawless game in the first half, and a very good game in the second half and extra time, only to be undone by a hockey-style deflection in front of goal at the end of extra time.

The loss means Sacramento Republic’s 2020 season is over, just like that. Soccer can be a cruel sport sometimes, when you play well and one moment, one bounce, turns out to be your undoing. We’ll have plenty of time to break down the season in the coming days, weeks and months. For now, it’s time to chew over a heartbreaking loss to end the campaign.

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