The Orange County Soccer Club (14-7-10) defeated the Las Vegas Lights FC (6-3-22) in their final USL Championship regular season home game at Championship Soccer Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 23.
The game featured an own goal by OCSC in the second half, putting the team up 1-0, and one goal from each team in stoppage time.
Orange County attacked heavily in the first half with 11 shots, six of them on goal. In the fourth minute, OCSC midfielder Mikko Kuningas sent in a cross to forward Ronaldo Damus. Kuningas’ header was blocked and sent back to forward Sean “Ugo” Okoli. Okoli’s header was saved by Lights goalkeeper Alex Rando.
12 minutes in, OCSC won a free kick after a hard foul by Lights defender Dekel Keinan, earning him his first yellow card of the game.
Brian Iloski pushed the ball forward, delivering a pass to Okoli on the right side of the box 21 minutes into the game. Okoli’s right-footed strike was saved in the top right corner of the goal by Rando, forcing an OCSC corner.
25 minutes into play, OCSC found themselves with a corner kick from Kuningas. The ball was sent in towards the middle of the box to Damus, who sent a header just barely over the crossbar.
OCSC got their first yellow card of the game after Lights midfielder Frank Daroma was fouled hard by Kuningas.
Damus sent a right-footed shot off a pass by OCSC defender Kobi Henry 35 minutes into the game, which was saved again by the Lights goalkeeper.
After a through pass from OCSC midfielder Tommy McCabe, Damus found himself with an opportunity to get points on the board . Damus made a couple of dribble moves before passing the ball to midfielder Eric Calvillo, whose left-footed shot was saved by Rando, forcing another OCSC corner.
Kuningas’ ensuing corner was taken up by Okoli, whose header rejected off the top crossbar but made contact with Henry’s head. Henry’s header was blocked by the Lights defense, once again halting the OCSC attack. The first half ended in a scoreless draw.
“I felt again, we had a lot of good quality chances in the first half,” OCSC interim head coach Richard Chaplow said. “I felt we could’ve played better with the ball, but we managed to regain the momentum going into the last 10 minutes of the first half and the message was to continue that consistency … and then we will get confident, and we will break the deadlock.”
The OCSC attack continued in the second half, getting multiple shots on goal. However, they were unable to convert until 65 minutes in, when they finally managed to break through.
The play started with a timely run down the middle of the field by OCSC second half substitute forward Thomas Enevoldsen. He fired a pass down the right side of the box to Damus, whose shot was blocked by the Lights defense. After the block, the ball ricocheted off Keinan and traveled across the line, causing an own goal and giving OCSC a 1-0 lead in the game.
“I know this goal was not easy. A lot goes into the game, but I never give up, I keep pushing, that’s why I found the goal,” Damus later said.
The Lights had their first chance of the game at 72 minutes, following a mistake from Henry. However, midfielder Bruce El Mesmari’s shot was blocked just wide of the goal.
At 76 minutes,tension rose on the field. Following a goal kick from OCSC goalkeeper Patrick Rakovsky, Keinan made a hard challenge on Okoli while going for a header. He was awarded his second yellow card of the game, which eventually turned into a red card. Keinan was disqualified for the remainder of the match. The Lights played with only 10 men for the rest of the game.
78 minutes into the game, OCSC tried to capitalize off the Lights’ handicap. Damus again led the charge up the field, delivering a quick pass to Enevoldsen running down the right side. Enevoldsen fired a shot just left of the box, giving Las Vegas a goal kick.
At 90 minutes, the game began to intensify. OCSC pushed their attack forward, desperate to put the game-clinching goal into the back of the net. The offense was led again by Enevoldsen, who whipped a cross over to OCSC forward Aidan Apodaca on the left side of the box. His shot was headed out of bounds after a block by the Lights defense, focing an OCSC corner. OCSC Midfielder Seth Casiple sent the corner right to the head of Damus, whose shot ricocheted off the top of the crossbar and was cleared away by the Lights defense.
91 minutes in, the Lights made their first goal of the game. Lights midfielder Dylan Presto made a run down the right side of the field and sent in a cross to forward Danny Trejo. Trejo made a strike with his left foot towards the bottom left corner of the goal.
“This can’t happen, point blank,” Rakovsky later said. “You know, you go three games without conceding a goal … this is going to decide the game, and almost cost us a win. [Next game] we will come with a different mentality. The positive thing we can take away is our mentality, not giving up, and the other teams also see they have to fight us until the last, final whistle.”
Eager for the win, OCSC stayed persistent. In the final minute of stoppage time they had a desperate chance to break the tie. OCSC Defender Brent Richards sent a ball across midfield to Apodaca, who flung it to a sprinting Enevoldsen. Enevoldsen then delivered a quick pass to forward Darwin Jones up the right side of the field. Jones’ kick found Damus’ in the center of the penalty box. Damus sent in a perfect shot towards the right edge of the goal, finding the back of the net and putting OCSC up 2-1 in the final minute of the game.
“You know, this team, we just don’t give up, we just never quit until the last minute, so I thought we always had a chance,” OCSC defender Nathan Smith said. “I think we can build off the win, I think this is our fourth win in a row, let’s just keep getting those wins and keep that momentum going.”
Chaplow also gave his thoughts following the crucial victory.
“Listen, these games are never easy. We’ve put ourselves in a great spot coming into the game and, you know, we needed to win to put that pressure on San Diego. The way we came out, we started fast, just couldn’t break the deadlock. So many high quality chances and we need to get that in front of that,” Chaplow said.
This win was crucial for OCSC, keeping them in contention for the No. 2 spot in the division and a potential home playoff game. OCSC will close out the regular season against LA Galaxy II on Saturday, Oct. 30 at Dignity Health Sports Park at 7:30 p.m. The game can be streamed on ESPN+ and Cox Communications TV.
James Huston is a Sports Staff Writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.