CD AGUILUCHOS USA WINS WEST REGION TITLE, WILL PLAY ELM CITY IN NATIONAL SEMIFINALS
CD Aguiluchos USA topped Orange County FC to win their second West Region Championship in three years by a score of 1-0 at Burrell Field in San Leandro on Saturday night. They were led by a goal from the 2013 NPSL Player of the Year Ross Middlemiss, and a strong, organized defensive effort from the entire team.
The first half was an even affair as Orange County FC controlled much of the possession early in the match, but Aguiluchos created a few more of the dangerous chances. The first major chance of the game fell to Aguiluchos in the eighth minute when Ross Middlemiss hit the crossbar from inside the box.
“I thought in the first half we were kind of feeling them out, nothing too fantastic, you know,” said the Aguiluchos attacker after the match. “I obviously had a good look there and hit the cross bar. I always think I could have put that one in.”
Just two minutes later, two-time NPSL Golden Boot winner Simon Rawnsley found the back of the net for Agulichos off of a rebound, but he was called offside. OCFC would continue to control possession in the first half, but struggled to find the final ball that would unlock the Aguiluchos defense.
The half would end at 0-0 with both sides feeling they had a great shot to win the match.
“At halftime, we were pointing out things we could do better,” said Middlemiss. “With games like this it was always going to be kind of cagey.”
Both teams continued to create some smaller chances in the beginning of the second half. The game also started to become more chippy with many of Orange County’s best chances coming off of free kicks.
The breakthrough goal came in the 67th minute when Middlemiss found the ball at his feet following a scramble in the box.
“I read the ball coming, and I just tried to anticipate where it would fall,” said Middlemiss about his goal. “I saw the keeper come out, and I just tried to slot it in the best I could.”
This was a big goal for one of CD Aguiluchos’ main men, as his 2016 campaign was ended by injury.
“It’s just great to be in this game, especially after the way my season ended last year, going out and having surgery,” said an emotional, longtime NPSL player. “I was kind of thinking last year was going to be it, and I just didn’t want it to end like that. It’s a lot of work this stage in my career to come back and even be in a position to play in this game.”
He then went on to say, “This is my fifth regional final and I’ve never scored a goal in one. It’s pretty exciting. You know my family came out to watch so it means a lot to contribute.”
Orange County’s dangerous attacking side would push hard for an equalizer. The team featured 2017 NPSL Golden Boot winner Alessandro Canale, Football Manager Season’s Bext XI selection Michael Bryant, and several other talented attacking players. They tried their best to put one past Aguiluchos keeper Kevin Gonzales, but were unable to do so.
The best chance of the match for OCFC came when they took a free kick quickly, and forced the biggest save of the game by Gonzales.
“It was crazy because I wasn’t really expecting a ball in, especially in those tense minutes,” said the Aguiluchos keeper. “And we maybe weren’t attentive, but lucky we just held it down there as a group.”
This was Kevin Gonzales’ second clean sheet in the playoffs for a defense that is just now starting to really click.
“It was hard to get our solid group all season through injuries, and those three loses [late in the season] kind of hurt us, but we just showed our perseverance within the team and in this group,” said Gonzales.
Aguiluchos will now travel to New Haven, Connecticut to face the Elm City Express to try and advance one step farther than they did in 2015 when they lost to New York Cosmos B in the national semifinals
“I think it’s just playing our game,” said Middlemiss about what the team has to do to take that next step. “I think we play a pretty open style of game. We are not going to park the bus. We are going to play pretty exciting football and go for it. So I think just doing what we do and showing up and being organized and play exciting attacking soccer and leaving it all out on the field,”