Arizona United loses season opener to Oklahoma City

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It may not have been the result Arizona United wanted, but four weeks ago no one even expected Phoenix to still have a professional soccer team.

Four weeks ago, the franchise was founded by local businessman Kyle Eng. Two weeks ago, Michael Dellorusso was hired as the head coach. One week ago, the team signed its players.

It is for these reasons that United’s 4-0 loss to Oklahoma City Energy FC in its first game in franchise history was not a disappointment. Not even to the 2,888 fans showed up to see the game at the Peoria Sports Complex. Professional soccer is back in Arizona.

“It was a special night, a great night that everyone will remember,” Dellorusso said. “Obviously the result wasn’t something that we wanted, but to bring this amount of people out here to show their support for these guys – it was phenomenal.”

Midfielder Matt Kassel, who has previously played for the New York Red Bulls and Philadelphia Union, acknowledged that it was special to be a part of the first game in franchise history.

“There’s great support around here, it’s a large soccer community,” Kassel said. “It’s important for us to welcome them in and show them a good display of the sport. We have to support them, as much as they’re supporting us. To start a whole new franchise, it’s an exciting time in the Phoenix area right now.”

In the first half, Arizona United came out a little sluggish. While they were stout defensively, they struggled with their distribution out of the back and were barely in the attacking third of the pitch.

In the 37th minute, the Energy (2-1-0) found the back of the net as Cyprian Hedrick beat United goalkeeper Evan Newton. But Hedrick was called offside.

The match turned on its head six minutes later. United defender London Woodberry was called for his second yellow card after shouldering Paul Wyatt just outside the box. With Woodberry gone, midfielder Joey Dillon dropped back to the right back position.

Woodberry’s red card proved to be United’s downfall as the Energy scored a goal in the first minute of the second half. Midfielder David Leichty found Steven Perry on a through ball inside the penalty box, and Perry was able to send it home for the first goal of the game.

Five minutes later, Energy forward Kyle Greig headed a ball into the back of the net from the six-yard box to give Oklahoma City the 2-0 lead.

United’s closest scoring attempt came at the 56 minute mark when forward Jonathan Top nearly put away a shot off a rebound, but the ball narrowly rolled past the far post.

Oklahoma City kept applying the pressure and eventually scored once again in the 65th minute. Defender Kyle Miller put his head on a cross near the six-yard box and it was deflected in by a United defender for a goal.

Midfielder Adda Djeziri capped off the scoring six minutes later, slipping a shot past Newton at the left corner of the net.

“We don’t want to make any excuses,” Kassel said. “I flew in a week ago, last Friday, and [for] most of the guys it’s the same thing. Our first training session was on Saturday, a week ago from today, so it’s tough. But, we don’t want to make that excuse. We can say that all we want but at the end of the day we’re professional soccer players.”

United’s next game will be at home on Saturday, April 19 against yet another fellow USL PRO expansion club, Sacramento Republic FC. Dellorusso said the biggest thing his team will work on is maintaining possession.

“Keeping the ball, that’s what we’re about,” he said. “That’s what failed us today. If we’re not going to possess the ball, we’re going to be exposed.”

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