The No. 3 Orange County Soccer Club (10-9-7) fell to No. 1 Phoenix Rising FC (18-4-5), 1-0, at Irvine’s Championship Soccer Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 2.
The game made history for the club as they recorded the largest fan attendance in their history at 5,130 people.
“I think it was a good matchup, something we’ve been expecting,” OCSC captain defender Michael Orozco said. “Not the result we would’ve wanted or hoped for, but obviously, going into the last stretch of the season we need to push ourselves a bit more.”
Phoenix Rising FC looked like the team to beat early on in the match. They pushed the ball forward and deep into opponent territory early, getting a few early shots on goal.
The first opportunity for OCSC came in the seventh minute when OCSC defender Kevin Alston hit a ball through the defense to a wide-open forward Sean “Ugo” Okoli; however, he was called offside halting the OCSC attack.
The game went back and forth during the first half with each team getting their fair share of shots on goal. Phoenix seemed like the more aggressive team early on, winning what seemed like corner after corner.
24 minutes into the game, it looked like Phoenix had their big break as forward Solomon Asante found himself in the open field after a pass from midfielder Arturo Rodriguez coming behind the OCSC defense. Rodriguez only had the goalkeeper to beat. However, his first touch was just a little too long and OCSC goalkeeper Patrick Rakovsky knocked the ball away with his outstretched hands, keeping the score tied at 0-0.
Finally, at 32 minutes, Phoenix caught a break. Following a deep clearance from the Phoenix defense, the ball bounced twice in the midfield before deflecting off the head of OCSC defender Rob Kiernan, right into the lane of Phoenix forward Darren Mattocks. Mattocks made solid contact with his right foot, chipping the ball right over the head of Rakovsky for the first and only goal of the game. This put Phoenix ahead, 1-0.
Phoenix kept on the attack, almost scoring again right before the end of the first half. The ball was played up to Phoenix midfielder Santi Moar who caught Rakovsky off his line, but he just missed the strike with his left foot wide left.
OCSC went into halftime desperate to find a tying goal. It was almost as if the team flipped a switch coming out of the break.
“I think we played the first half pretty good, we had a couple chances,” Rakovsky said. “If you look at the game, probably one of our best home performances in a while … [Moving forward,] let’s try to play good like today and win like last week.”
The aggressiveness in the second half paid off 49 minutes in when OCSC had two big shots on goal. The first, a header by midfielder Dillon Powers, was saved by Phoenix goalkeeper Andre Rawls; the second, a shot by Orozco, was also saved.
With some of the OCSC players frustrated with the Phoenix defense, the game started to get chippy 55 minutes into play. After OCSC midfielder Brian Iloski had the ball stolen following a hard tackle by a Phoenix midfield, Powers fouled Phoenix midfielder Kevon Lambert from behind out of frustration. It resulted in a scuffle at midfield, and Powers was awarded a yellow card of caution by the referee.
“We have some things to clean up, a few mistakes from us,” Iloski said. “I think we kept the ball pretty well this game, we just got to capitalize on our opportunities.”
OCSC got another chance in the 66 minutes as OCSC midfielder Eric Calvillo sent the ball towards the head of forward Ronaldo Damus, whose header was saved again by the Phoenix goalkeeper.
OCSC fought until the final whistle but came up short. The team finished the night with 59% of the overall possession and 20 shots (5 on target) compared to Phoenix Rising’s 41% and 14 shots (3 on target).
“I thought we looked really, really strong tonight,” OCSC interim head coach Richard Chaplow said. “I thought the second half Phoenix didn’t really get across the halfway line, I just thought it was wave after wave of attack … I think to put them on the back foot so much and so consistently is a massive positive for us.”
Reflecting back on the game, Orozco commented about the hard loss as well.
“We’re making it tough on ourselves to go to Tacoma and get those three points, but that’s what it’s all about … We just gotta go out there, compete for 90 minutes and get those three points,” Orozco said.
OCSC will look to bounce back against Tacoma Defiance at Cheney Stadium in Tacoma, Washington on Saturday, Oct. 9 at 7 p.m. Tickets can be found online, and the game can be streamed on ESPN+ and Cox Communications TV.
James Huston is a Staff Writer. He can be reached at email@example.com.