Orange County Soccer Club (16-7-10) defeated the Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC (13-10-10), 1-0, in the first round of the 2021 USL Championship playoffs.
OCSC forward Ronaldo Damus scored the team’s only goal in stoppage time for the first half.
“I’m just proud of the team,” OCSC midfielder Dillon Powers said. “When we went down a man, 0-0, that was a tough moment, you know — playoff game, seasons on the line … we grew together. I feel like there was a spirit there that’s been building over the last five games that really showed through … [this] game.”
Colorado started on the attack early, with USL Championship Golden Boot winner and Colorado forward Hadji Barry firing a strike 12 minutes in. The strike, however, was deftly saved by OCSC goalkeeper Patrick Rakovsky. OCSC then countered in the 23 minutes into play when OCSC midfielder Mikko Kuningas missed a shot wide right from just outside the box.
The game was chippy from the get-go, with the team trying to get in each other’s heads. The first yellow card came 20 minutes in when Kuningas was cautioned for a hard tripping foul on the Colorado attack. At 27 minutes, Colorado defender Jimmy Ockford was also given a yellow card for a hard foul on Damus.
OCSC had another chance to score 29 minutes in with a header by OCSC defender Rob Kiernan. The header, however, was saved by Colorado goalkeeper Sean Melvin following a cross from Kuningas.
A pivotal point in the game occurred at 31 minutes when Colorado midfielder Zach Zandi sent a pass from behind the OCSC defense to Colorado forward Thomas Amang. Amang was then dragged down from behind by Kiernan, who then played physical defense as he dragged down Kiernan on his back. Kiernan was awarded a red card, which disqualified him from playing for the remainder of the game. OCSC was down one man against Colorado’s 11 for the rest of the night.
In the ensuing free kick, Colorado defender Sebastian Anderson missed a shot just over the crossbar. To counteract the red card situation, OCSC made a tactical change, bringing in 17-year-old defender Kobi Henry to replace Kuningas.
The next turning point of the game came in the first minute of stoppage time in the first half. The play started with a throw-in from OCSC defender Brent Richards, which was deflected onto the foot of midfielder Tommy McCabe. McCabe’s right-footed shot from just outside the box was blocked and ricocheted right to Damus. Damus then fired a shot to the left corner of the box just over the Colorado goalkeeper, putting OCSC up 1-0 at the half.
“It wasn’t easy playing with 10 people. After we made that goal, the other team started pushing … against us, making us fight even more. We had to keep fighting,” Damus said.
Still down one man and leading 1-0, OCSC hoped to increase their lead in the second half. Their defense held strong, fending off wave after wave of Colorado’s offense. Goalkeeper Patrick Rakovsky recorded five saves, but none was more important than that made 85 minutes into the game. Barry made a shot on goal that was saved by Rakovsky in the bottom right corner of the net.
When the final whistle blew, Championship Soccer Stadium erupted into cheers as OCSC secured their first home playoff victory since 2018.
OCSC interim head coach Richard Chaplow commented on his team’s effort after the game.
“I said to them at halftime that I had every confidence that they would be able to endure the uncomfortable moments… it takes a [certain] mentality and a mindset and that’s something we have in abundance,” Chaplow said.
Rakovsky also added that he was proud of the team’s defensive work — especially in the second half.
“To win against a strong Colorado team — who probably was better than us today with the ball — was just defending nicely,” Rakovsky said. “We played … 75 minutes with a man down and they had, to be honest, two difficult shots. Great defensive work and, to be honest, we had more chances than they had.”
OCSC will continue their 2021 USL Championship playoff campaign against the Oakland Roots at Championship Soccer Stadium next Saturday, Nov. 13 at 7 p.m. The game can be streamed on ESPN+ and Cox Communications TV. Tickets can be purchased online at orangecountysoccer.com/playoffs.
James Huston is a Sports Staff Writer for the fall 2021 quarter. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.