The Orange County Soccer Club (OCSC) defeated Sacramento Republic FC, 3-1, in a USL Championship Pacific Division matchup in Sacramento on Saturday, June 5. 

OCSC’s first road victory in the young season was propelled by goals from forward Ronaldo Damus, forward Eero Markkanen and midfielder Brian Iloski. 

The OCSC lineup featured a new 4-2-3-1 formation with Iloski, who replaced an injured forward Thomas Enevoldsen, and veteran defender Kevin Alston returning to the starting 11. 

The game started with Sacramento maintaining the majority of the possession. The first shot from OCSC came off a long throw-in from defender Brent Richards, which midfielder Christopher “Chris” Wehan struck just a bit too high and caused to sail over the crossbar. 

The game was chippy early on with multiple fouls coming from both sides. The OCSC defense held strong, especially during the 10th minute when a shot by Sacramento captain midfielder Petteri Pennanen was blocked and stopped any sort of consistent momentum early in the first half. 

OCSC caught their first big break of the game in the 22nd minute. Following a hard tackle on Richards just outside the penalty box by Sacramento midfielder Luis Felipe Fernandes, OCSC was awarded a free kick. The kick was curled into the box by midfielder Mikko Kuningas, just finding the foot of a streaking Damus. Damus snuck the ball just out of reach from Sacramento goalkeeper Tomas Gomez, and he made the first goal of the game. 

The goal gave the OCSC forward his first goal of the 2021 USL Championship regular season, putting OCSC ahead 1-0 early in the game. 

In the 26th minute, the first heated exchange of the game took place after a hard foul by OCSC captain and defender Michael Orozco on Sacramento forward Dariusz Formella. Formella, disgusted with the tackle, shoved Orozco, earning him the first yellow card of the game. Another confrontational moment occurred in the 31st minute when Markkanen appeared to elbow a Sacramento player in the head while going for a header; however, he was only awarded a common foul. Following a hard tackle on Damus, another yellow card was issued to Sacramento defender Christopher “Chris” Glosser in the 33rd minute. 

Photo courtesy of Orange County SC

Sacramento Republic FC saw their first real opportunity in the 35th minute — a push forward from defender Jordan McCrary crossed a ball into the box towards the direction of forward Cameron Iwasa, whose header went just over the crossbar. The OCSC defense held up for the remainder of the first half, keeping the score 1-0 in favor of OCSC.

To begin the second half, Sacramento Republic FC brought in defender Duke Lacroix, midfielder Tucker Bone and defender Nabilai Kibunguchy to help contain the OCSC attack and regroup offensively. The second half began with a couple of hard fouls from both sides adding to the tension of the game. 

In the 49th minute, Richards led a push down the right side of the field for OCSC and crossed a ball into the box; this was deflected out of bounds for an OCSC corner kick. Wehan took the corner and sent a deep pass towards the far post, which connected with a Richards header right into the box. A wide open Markkanen headed the ball right into the back of the net, giving OCSC a 2-0 lead.

To add to the Sacramento Republic FC misfortunes, Sacramento defender Dan Casey was given a red card after a violent shot to the midsection of Iloski. The home team was now down to playing with only 10 men for the rest of the match. 

Photo courtesy of Orange County SC

However, Sacramento seemed to turn up the tempo following the red card. They were more aggressive, pushed forward and looked for opportunities deep in the OCSC defense. That opportunity finally came in the 60th minute when Bone connected on a goal following a nicely played ball from Fernandes. The goal cut into the deficit, making the score 2-1.

The game went back and forth until the 66th minute when OCSC defender Rhys Breen was given OCSC’s first yellow card of the game. OCSC then started focusing more on the defensive end of the field, trying to hold on to its 2-1 lead. Head coach Braeden Cloutier decided to bring on defender Avionne Flanagan for Markkanen in the 68th minute. 

In the 69th minute, Damus found himself on a fast break after a great pass from Iloski. After some fancy footwork, Damus looked to have a wide-open shot at the goal; however, Sacramento’s Kibunguchy recovered from behind and made a goal-saving tackle. 

In the next few minutes, OCSC goalkeeper Patrick Rakovsky came up with three big saves off shots from Bone, Pennanen and Formella. To help on the defensive end, OCSC brought in midfielder Thomas McCabe for Breen and defender Nathan Smith for Alston. 

Following another heated scuffle, Bone and Kuningas were both given yellow cards in the 77th minute. The following minute, Iloski blocked a shot from Pennanen. OCSC seemed to be controlling that end of the field. In the 82nd minute, OCSC then went on a counterattack that was led by Wehan; he crossed a ball over to McCabe, who just missed a shot wide left of the goal. 

The OCSC defense held off multiple pushes from the Sacramento Republic FC offense until the 87th minute, when all hope of tying the game went out the window for Sacramento. Damus led a counterattack just past midfield and found a wide open Iloski running down the left side. Iloski pushed the ball out in front of him once, before cutting back to his right then his left. This fooled the Sacramento defense completely. He then fired a shot with his left foot over the head of Sacramento goalkeeper Gomez and into the back of the net for his first goal of the season. Iloski’s goal sealed the win for OCSC and put them up 3-1 in the game. 

Photo courtesy of Orange County SC

The OCSC defense held for the rest of the game, and Sacramento Republic FC was unable to respond. The win was the second of the regular season for OCSC, bringing their official record to 2-2-0. 

OCSC will be back in action, returning home to Championship Soccer Stadium on Wednesday, June 9 at 7 p.m. to take on a tough San Diego Loyal Soccer Club coached by U.S. soccer legend Landon Donovan.

The team will be offering a “Dollar Beers and Cheap Eats” special where they will sell $1 beers from 6-7 p.m. as well as give away one free taco from the Rubio’s X Richard Blais food truck to the first 500 fans, and free Chick-Fil-A waffle chips to the first 250 fans. Tickets can be found online, and the game can be streamed on ESPN+ and Cox Communications TV.

James Huston is a Sports Staff Writer. He can be reached at hustonj@uci.edu.