Orange County Soccer Club (15-7-10) defeated San Antonio FC (14-10-8) in the 2021 USL Championship Western Conference Finals at Championship Soccer Stadium in Irvine on Nov. 20.
The game featured a goal from each side, ended regular time in a 1-1 draw, advanced to extra time and was followed by penalties.
The win secured OCSC their first appearance in the league finals in franchise history.
“The one thing we’ve been all year is hard to beat, and defense wins championships … that’s why we’re headed to the final. The job’s not done until next week,” OCSC midfielder Dillon Powers said after the game.
39 minutes in, OCSC made the first goal of the evening. OCSC’s score came off a throw-in by defender Brent Richards, which found the right foot of forward Ronaldo Damus. Damus then fired a strike with his right foot to the left side of the goal, just out of reach of San Antonio goalkeeper Jordan Farr and into the back of the net. The goal put OCSC up 1-0 going into the second half.
“The objective was to come here and be my best and get the championship [and] the job is not done yet. My job is to make goals for this club and that’s why I practice … we work hard every practice to make these goals,” Damus said.
55 minutes into the second half, OCSC midfielder Brian Iloski made a left-footed shot from the left side of the box, which was ultimately blocked by the San Antonio defense.
However, San Antonio’s offense began to pick up. 67 minutes into the game, defender Connor Maloney crossed the ball up to forward Marcus Epps, who made a header from the center of the box to the top left corner. The game was tied at one apiece.
San Antonio continued applying pressure 70 minutes in as midfielder Victor Giro missed from outside the box with a left-footed shot. The shot was close but barely missed to the right side of the box.
Five minutes later Iloski crossed the ball towards Richards, who attempted a left-footed shot from the right side of the box that ended up just a bit too high.
With a 1-1 tie, the match continued in extra time, when OCSC’s offense looked a lot stronger. 105 minutes in, defender Rob Kiernan’s left-footed shot was saved by Farr in the center of the box.
The next two back-to-back plays were also from OCSC as Damus missed a right-footed shot to the right following a set-piece. Forward Sean Okoli then made a shot, hitting the bar and ending the first half still at 1-1.
Starting the second half of extra time, OCSC continued their attack as San Antonio blocked Powers’ shot.
In the last play of extra time, San Antonio forward Santiago Patino made a header from the center of the box and missed to the right. This took both teams to penalty kicks.
OCSC shot first, with midfielder Seth Casiple sending the shot towards the bottom left corner and making it 1-0 in penalties.
Both teams traded penalty conversions until San Antonio forward Justin Dhillon hit the left post with a right-footed shot and missed. The next shot was was all up to Okoli.
Okoli’s right-footed shot to the bottom left center goal won the game for OCSC.
“You know I’ve been taking penalties for a long time and trying to improve since I was a kid, so being able to see the work pay off tonight for the team [and] for our fans tonight — it’s an amazing feeling,” Okoli said. “It’s a season of a lot of ups and downs as a club, individually. Each and every one of us [has] to have the character, the perseverance and resilience to bounce back and keep going week after week … I’m very proud to be a part of this group.”
OCSC head coach Richard Chaplow added his thoughts after the game.
“I thought we were definitely the better team for the first half. I thought we deserved the lead for 25 minutes, then became the stronger team and, obviously, got the goal,” Chaplow said. “I thought in extra time there was only one team in it … I told our team at halftime of extra time to look across. They had six, seven lads on the floor stretching off cramps. We had one lad get cramps, that’s Kevin Alston. That’s a testament to the amount of work these boys put in on the training pitch — how fit we are as a team. We look like we could’ve gone another 120 minutes.”
OCSC defeated the Tampa Bay Rowdies, 3-1, in the USL Championship Final to claim the club’s first-ever USL Championship trophy on Sunday, Nov. 28.
James Huston is a Sports Staff Writer for the fall 2021 quarter. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Marcos Gonzalez is a 2021-2022 Sports Staff Writer. He can be reached at email@example.com.