It was hot and humid on a Saturday night in the desert as FC Arizona hosted Orange County FC in the NPSL West Region Semifinals.
Would the match be a tough defensive battle or a shootout similar to the Gunfight at OK Corral?
Entering the match, the home side was unbeaten, but we all know there is a first time for everything.
Early in the match it was FC Arizona that looked more comfortable by frustrating OCFC with pressure and breaking up passes in the midfield but it didn’t take long for the visitors to regroup and set the tone.
OCFC came dangerously close to taking the lead late in the first half when captain Michael Bryant got his head on a free kick that found NPSL Golden Boot co-winner Alessandro Canale, but the physical striker put his shot over the bar at point-blank range.
Although the first half ended scoreless, the OCFC players were feeling upbeat during the interval.
“We were dominating the entire first half,” said Michael Bryant. “It was unfortunate that we didn’t score, but we knew those chances would come.”
Six minutes into the second half it was Michael Bryant who gave OCFC a 1-0 lead after receiving a pass from Connor Gordon and firing a laser shot from twenty-five yards out to beat Arizona keeper Andrew Weber.
The small traveling contingent of OCFC supporters erupted in delight while the home fans were stunned in silence.
“I saw some space and nobody was stepping,” said Bryant. “I had a rip and looked up to see it going into the upper corner. I couldn’t believe it, I never scored a goal like that before but what a time to score it.”
FC Arizona knew they had a tough task on their hands if they wanted to fight back but OCFC continued to dictate the match and midfielder Daniel Crisostomo was on top form the entire ninety minutes with his speed and ball control.
OCFC came close to doubling the lead, but Canale was denied at point blank range as Weber kept FC Arizona in the game.
A week earlier Canale’s goalscoring streak ended and he was denied from the penalty spot.
But in the 69th minute a pass from midfielder Armando Flores found Canale. Andrew Weber came out to no-man’s land and the dangerous striker put his shot past Weber into the far corner to give his side a 2-0 lead.
The OCFC fans erupted once again. They could feel it. OCFC were on their way to the West Region Final and FC Arizona would finally experience their first defeat as members of the NPSL.
“I felt a relief when Alessandro scored,” said Bryant. “We needed that goal. We were grinding out this game and we knew another goal would put them away. We pushed on to the end as a team and fought for ninety minutes.”
Justice Duerksen once again was brilliant playing on the right side as the OCFC midfield set the tone throughout the match and goalkeeper Brandon Gomez was rarely called into action.
“We did a good job by not overcommitting,” said Duerksen. “We stuck together and played our game.”
Orange County FC fired on all cylinders and were strong with tactics and technique. It was evident that coaches Paul Caligiuri and Ernie Richau came to Mesa with a well-prepared game plan.
After eliminating conference winners FC Arizona, OCFC are riding high and they feel that they can take on the whole West Coast.
We all know there is a first time for everything and OCFC are ready looking to win the West in their first season as members of the NPSL when they face CD Aguiluchos on Saturday, July 29th.
Orange County FC just won the Showdown in the Desert, but next up is the Battle for California.