LAS VEGAS, Nev. — Never bet against the house in Vegas.
Done in by lady luck and some very bad late bounces, Phoenix Rising FC left points on the pitch Saturday night as Las Vegas Lights FC scored two goals late in extra time to steal a 3-3 draw at Cashman Field.
“Not how to finish a game,” Phoenix Rising Head Coach Rick Schantz said on Twitter. “We have to be stronger in challenging moments.”
The shocking draw ended a four-match winning streak and left Rising at 6-1-2 this season, still sitting at the top of the table in Group B with 20 points. Phoenix leads second-place Orange County SC (4-0-2, 14 points) by six points although OC has three matches in hand. Las Vegas Lights moved to 1-3-2 for 5 points.
When Rising’s Solomon Asante converted a penalty kick in the 90th minute, it appeared the match was all but over. Phoenix led 3-1 as referee Malik Badawi signaled for four minutes of second-half extra time.
Then the chaos began.
Las Vegas Lights, who minutes earlier had two feet in the grave, needed every play and every bounce to go their way. And that’s exactly what happened, aided by head referee Badawi allowing a full six minutes past the original four minutes of allotted stoppage time.
First, an own goal in the 97th minute brought LVL within one. Vegas’ Jaiden Waggoner crossed a ball from the left side that found the knee of Phoenix defender A.J. Cochran near the 6-yard box. The hard deflection rattled over Rising keeper Eric Dick and into the goal to make it 3-2.
Then in the 99th minute, more than 5 minutes past when the match should’ve ended, more unlucky bounces and some questionable defending cost Rising the victory.
A foul was called near midfield as the clock neared 100 minutes.
The ball was placed near the midfield stripe when the linesman indicated it should have been back a good 10 yards. Lights keeper Edward Delgado sent a driving ball into the Rising goal mouth — it was headed away by the Phoenix defense only to hit the back of a Lights player’s head and land at the feet of Blake Frischknecht.
The Lights forward back heeled the ball into a group of players and somehow Lights captain Ramon Martin del Campo poked the ball into the net to tie the match at 3-3.
Rising players looked at each other in disgust as the Lights roster celebrated in the corner as if they had won a championship.
Somehow the announced four minutes of extra time had become 10 minutes — just enough time for Lights to pilfer the draw.
Rising fans on social media were livid at the outcome.
“That’s just blatant cheating,” said @phxrising110 on Twitter.
Ruben Rivera agreed.
“How does 4 minutes of extra time turn into 10 minutes?” he asked on Twitter.
Other fans commented that the final free kick was taken 10-15 yards ahead of where the foul occurred. More supporters asked if there actually was a foul in the first place. And even more believed LVL players were offside on the tying goal. The television announcers were stunned and actually thought the foul whistle was the signal that the match was over.
A 3-3 draw really felt more like a loss.
As the match began, Rising got on the board early when Rufat Dadashov tallied in the fifth minute for his sixth goal this season:
Don't give Rufat Dadashov that much space in the box.— Phoenix Rising FC | Rising Together But Separate (@PHXRisingFC) August 23, 2020
Well, we don't mind it, but it's never going to go well for you.
0-1 | #LVvPHX
ABC15 app: https://t.co/w7AGjuxYwL
AUDIO STREAM: https://t.co/Adf0WfRMLG pic.twitter.com/8wSQz9m1Xw
Vegas found its footing and put on more pressure for the balance of the first half but the Rising back line stood firm and Phoenix led 1-0 at halftime.
After being frustrated three times earlier in the evening, Rising forward Junior Flemmings notched his league-leading 10th goal in the 68th minute. Flemmings used his speed to get in one-on-one against Delgado before chipping the ball in:
Vegas pulled a goal back in the 80th minute thanks to another fortunate bounce. A crossing pass deflected off Frischknecht and right onto the head of Yamikani Chester, who deposited the gift into the net to cut the Phoenix lead to 2-1.
In the 89th minute, Badawi determined that Phoenix’s Sam Stanton was fouled in the box and pointed to the penalty spot. Asante calmly directed the penalty kick into the left-side netting, paving the way for a wild final 10 minutes.
Possession of the ball was split 50/50 in the match. Vegas outshot Phoenix 22-18 and had seven corner kicks compared to six for Rising.
Phoenix will try to bounce back next Saturday, Aug. 29 with a road match at Reno 1868 FC. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. with television coverage on CW61 in the Valley, streaming on ESPN+ and the ABC15 app and an audio broadcast on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM.
“This will motivate myself, staff and players to push harder,” Schantz said.