Didier Drogba

SCOTTSDALE, AZ – Didier Drogba tallied a goal and an assist in his USL debut to lead Phoenix Rising FC to a 2-1 victory over Whitecaps FC 2 on a scorching Saturday evening.

Marco Bustos slotted in his fourth goal in as many appearances for WFC2, but Shaun Wright-Phillips scored a 77th-minute game-winner just when Vancouver looked intent on spoiling the night for the sellout crowd at Phoenix Rising Soccer Complex. Sean Melvin recorded six saves in net for WFC2.

Head coach Rich Fagan made three changes to his lineup from last week’s derby win in Portland, tabbing Melvin to man the WFC2 net, and reinserting first-year pros David Norman Jr. and Nazeem Bartman into his starting XI.

The highly-anticipated match got off to a frantic start, with the goalkeepers getting tested in the opening minutes.

First, it was Melvin denying Wright-Phillips’ attempt off a quick give-and-go with Drogba. On the other end, ‘Caps striker Kyle Greig got behind the defence on a breakaway, only for his shot to be snuffed by Phoenix Rising keeper Josh Cohen.

The home side kept the pressure on, with former Liga MX forward Omar Bravo having the closest chances in the first half-hour. One was off a rebound after Drogba’s left-side direct chip hit the woodwork, and the other was bravely cleared by Bustos off the line.

Drogba would open the scoring late in the first half. Just moments after his initial headed attempt banged off the crossbar, the former Chelsea great converted on a similar chance in the 40th minute, nodding in a cross from Amadou Dia, who was also making his Phoenix debut.

In the second half, Melvin would keep the ‘Caps within reach with timely stops against a pair of early shots in transition from winger Jason Johnson.

On the attack, WFC2 settled in and was patient in keeping possession. They got their reward in the 67th minute when Bustos played a through ball to Nazeem Bartman, who drew a foul from defender Kody Wakasa as he advanced into the box. Bustos blasted in the ensuing penalty kick, his second in consecutive weeks, momentarily levelling the match, 1-1.

Phoenix Rising would have the last say, however, on the strength of their two former English Premier League attackers. Drogba pushed in the middle of the field on a counterattack, drawing in the WFC2 defence, then dished off to Wright-Phillips on the right wing. The former English international’s right-footed strike found the bottom-left corner, giving Phoenix Rising the 2-1 lead in the 77th minute.

The ‘Caps would have a late push to equalize, but the home side would hold on, as Phoenix improve their record to 5W-5L-0D. Whitecaps FC 2 drop to 4W-6L-2D despite holding their own for most of the second frame.

Whitecaps FC 2 wrap up their three-match road trip next Saturday, June 17 with a visit to another MLS hopeful in perennial USL powerhouse Sacramento Republic FC. WFC2 are back home on Saturday, June 24 when they host Oklahoma City Energy FC at UBC Thunderbird Stadium for Community Day.