Jamaican Junior Flemmings extended his league-leading tally when he netted a brace in a losing effort for Phoenix Rising FC while young Reggae Boy Nicque Daley continued to excite passions with another goal for Charleston Battery as they clinched a playoff berth in the United Soccer League.
Playing at Casino Arizona Field in Tempe, on Saturday Group B leaders Rising FC went down 3-2 to second-placed San Diego Loyal, squandering a golden opportunity to secure their spot in the next round.
The 24-year-old Flemmings scored on either side of the break to move to 14 goals for the season but Rising FC failed to recover from Rubio Rubin’s first-half hat-trick.
American Rubin stunned the hosts with two quick strikes to give San Diego a stronghold in the contest after 12 minutes before Flemmings halved the lead four minutes before half-time.
Santi Moar got down the left and crossed for Flemmings who curled a low right-footer from 14 yards past goalkeeper Jon Kempin’s despairing dive to the left.
Celebrations had hardly subsided when Rubin restored the visitors’ two-goal cushion by netting deep in injury time, as San Diego led 3-1 at the break.
The only goal of the second half came in the 89th minute when Flemmings set up a nervy finish by beating substitute goalkeeper Jake Fenlason to a cross in the air and bundling home his second goal from close range.
For Rising FC, the defeat was their second in four games, leaving them four points clear at the top on 26 points with a game in hand while San Diego won their third straight to be unbeaten in five outings.
Also on Saturday, Jamaican Dane Kelly failed to add to his 10 goals as he was sent off for a reckless two-footed lunging tackle on full back DJ Taylor late in the first half.
The incident led to a fracas which resulted in three yellow cards but Aaron Maund scored the only goal in the 51st minute to change the tone and give Charlotte Independence a 1-0 win over North Carolina FC at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary.
However, the hosts were also reduced to 10 men in the 67th minute when Nazmi Albadawi was handed a second yellow.
Independence is now second in Group G on 24 points, one adrift of leaders Birmingham Legion.
On Sunday, 19-year-old Daley and Bermudian winger Zeiko Lewis both got on the scoresheet as Battery beat Miami FC 2-0 at Patriots Point in South Carolina.
Lewis opened the scoring in the 19th minute with his sixth goal of the season, beating advancing goalie Mark Pais after former Trinidad and Tobago Under-20 Leland Archer floated a delightful long pass from the half-way line into the box.
And on the stroke of half-time Daley notched his third of the season, latching on to a loose back pass to the keeper to poke home from close range.
Battery, second in Group H on 27 points, and leaders Tampa Bay Rowdies on 30, have both secured their spots in the next round.