The sport of soccer appeals to two large demographic groups in the greater Phoenix (Arizona) metropolitan area : the Mexican population, and upper-middle class suburban people. So the popularity and brand of Arizona’s first soccer club, Phoenix F.C. of the USL Pro, should only flourish.
On Thursday night, I attended my first “Wolves” game, who played host to the Charlotte Eagles at Sun Devil Soccer Stadium in Tempe. For an organization–and fanbase–in its inaugural year, I was quite impressed. The Phoenix players displayed a fiery passion and toughness in their play. The crowd was a tad sparse and hesitant, yet nonetheless devoted and enthusiastic (especially the “Furia Roja”, a congregation of soccer zealots on one end of the pitch).
At the onset of the match, one thing was clear: Charlotte was more talented and appeared as the favorites in the game. The Eagles concocted beautiful passes upfield, and after a few chances, converted on the 5th minute of the game. Phoenix’s chances seemed bleak thereon, but a sense of urgency developed at that point. On the 18th minute, after the Wolves finally settled into somewhat of a groove, Brazilian midfielder Netinho–who scored Phoenix’s first ever goal several weeks ago–earned a free kick about 30 yards out. What followed was a scorcher by defender Scott Morrison into the top-right corner.
Charlotte took the lead once again on the 35th minute, but Phoenix responded just 2 minutes later with another fantastic strike. Midfielder/forward Donny Toia intially lofted a 30-yard cross towards the goal, but it kept floating and glided right past the Charlotte goalkeeper.
Although these 4 first-half goals capped off the scoring for the entire night, the Wolves had plenty of more chances in the 2nd 45-minute half. The team was clearly more animated and motivated, and missed on great opportunities, with some shots bouncing off the post.
The Wolves may be at the bottom half of the USL Pro standings, but tonight’s and the whole season’s performance has been very promising. While observing the game, I developed a taste and dislike for the play of certain players (note that this is what just struck me in one game, and so this small sample size doesn’t really make anything really legitimate).
Even before his sensational free-kick strike, Scott Morrison established himself as the team leader and one of the best players on the pitch. The midfielder promoted essential communication throughout the game, which became extremely useful when the team was in the most dire need of it: after conceding goals. I don’t think I saw a single flawed pass by Morrison, who never unnecessarily pushed the ball forward–his methodical mix of short and long passes gradually developed a control of the game for Phoenix.
Although not always the case in soccer, the goal-scorers actually played the best for the entire–including midfielder/forward Donny Toia. He had great chemistry with Morrison on the left flank, which led to Toia’s 37th minute goal. Toia was a really effective cog in Phoenix’s offense, with spirited runs and as well as playing a part in generating a fluid passing game.
Goalkeeper Andrew Weber, rapidly becoming a fan favorite, played yet another crucial part in the Wolves’ effort. The goals he let in were more on the part of defensive breakdowns, and his saves during opportune moments for Charlotte allowed Phoenix to salvage a tie.
In addition to Netinho, Phoenix also has another Brazilian talent that turned heads: Diego Faria. The midfielder brought an important sense of stability, and played with a smoothness unmatched by any other player on the pitch.
I wasn’t really impressed by defender Renan Boufleur’s performance, or the play of forwards Aaron King and Darren Mackie. Boufleur appeared as though he had no true feel for the game, as we was disoriented and his touch was off. Playing at the top, Mackie and King each had seperate problems. For King, the pace and touch weren’t there (poor chemistry with teammates) and he didn’t really make the best of encouraging chances. And although Mackie played alright, as the first player Phoenix FC signed, the veteran Scottish striker should take more responsibility. I understand that he’s been out of the game for a long period, but he couldn’t convert on the best chances for either side, and overall played a bit too passive and apathetically.
Anyways, if I could ask one thing of soccer fans in the Tempe/Phoenix area, and even sports fans for that matter, is that you embrace this young franchise: the organization personnel are very courteous and welcoming, and the players vividly appreciate whatever spectators they receive.
Here’s the schedule for Phoenix FC.