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Orange County Soccer Club Wins Club’s First-Ever USL Championship Trophy

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Orange County Soccer Club (15-7-10) defeated the Tampa Bay Rowdies (23-2-7), 3-1, to claim the club’s first ever USL Championship trophy in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Sunday, Nov. 28. 

The Tampa Bay offense looked strong early, drawing a penalty kick after a foul in the box by OCSC defender Kevin Alston. The penalty, taken by Tampa Bay forward Sebastián Guenzatti, was saved in the bottom left corner of the net by goalkeeper Patrick Rakovsky 20 minutes into play.

The tide shifted 25 minutes into the game. Following a pass from Tampa Bay defender Forrest Lasso, teammate defender Jordan Scarlett tried to reverse the ball. However, Lasso had already vacated the area and the pass found a wide-open OCSC forward Ronaldo Damus. Damus lifted the ball with his left foot — just out of reach of Tampa goalkeeper Raiko Arozarena-González — into the back of the net for the first goal of the game, putting OCSC up 1-0.

OCSC continued to push forward deep into the Tampa Bay defense, drawing another scoring opportunity 38 minutes in. OCSC midfielder Eric Calvillo led the attack, delivering a perfect cross to Damus in the middle of the box. Damus then fired a shot with his right foot to the bottom left corner of the goal for the second goal of the game, putting OCSC up 2-0.

Just before halftime, OCSC extended their lead to 3-0 when midfielder Mikko Kuningas connected on a free kick with a left-footed strike to the left corner of the net, barely out of reach of Arozarena-González.

The second half started similarly, with Tampa Bay controlling the possession and pushing forward deep into the OCSC defense. They had their first big scoring chance 57 minutes into the game. The ball crossed into the box towards Tampa forward Steevan dos Santos but was deflected up into the air by OCSC defender Rob Kiernan. 

Dos Santos whiffed on the team’s first shot attempt. However, midfielder Leo Fernandes cleaned up the miss. Fernandes fired a shot to the bottom right corner of the net, catching Rakovsky off guard and giving the Rowdies their first and only goal of the game. OCSC led 3-1 throughout the rest of the game.

Late in the second half, Tampa used all their resources to attempt a goal — desperate for any scoring opportunities. They had a chance 87 minutes into the game off a header from forward Lucky Mkosana. This header, however, was acrobatically saved in the center of the goal by Rakovsky. This was Rakovsky’s sixth save of the game. 

“We showed today that It’s not about one single play — it’s about the team’s performance,” Rakovsky said.

The game ended in a 3-1 OCSC victory, giving the club their first-ever USL Championship trophy in its 11-year history. 

“I think to win a championship — it’s something we all sat out at the start of the season to do,” OCSC head coach Richard Chaplow said. “We’ve managed to rally and regroup as a team … to give ourselves the whole playoff spot was massive. We just rode the wave.”

James Huston is a Sports Staff Writer for the fall 2021 quarter. He can be reached at hustonj@uci.edu.