For all the script writers out there who love drama, the match between OCFC and Albion SC PROS had everything. It was a game that left Orange County FC supporters stunned as they walked out of the stadium. It was unfamiliar territory; OCFC experienced their first loss as members of the National Premier Soccer League. However, the loss itself wasn’t necessarily shocking. Instead, it was the fact that OCFC had a 3-0 lead at halftime.
Striker Alessandro Canale gave OCFC a 1-0 lead three minutes into the match. Canale displayed excellent dribbling skills and fired a shot from the top of the box that couldn’t be kept out by Albion keeper Kyle Jackson. Playing with confidence, OCFC looked to extend the lead later in the first half when Canale had a point-blank opportunity in front of the Albion net after taking advantage of a turnover by center back Travis Nicklaw. Canale’s shot went agonizingly wide despite having Jackson beat. Canale made amends for mistake soon after when a shot from midfielder Justice Duerksen was parried by Jackson and Canale tapped in the rebound to give OCFC a 2-0 lead in the 34th minute.
Time was winding down in the first half but Albion would not be saved by the bell. A clearance from right back Alexander Ferreira in stoppage time found Canale and the dangerous striker completed his hat-trick by evading Nicklaw and firing his shot past Jackson. The home crowd had plenty to cheer about as OCFC led 3-0 but that would all change quite suddenly and unexpectedly. Albion made a push to try and salvage a goal before the interval and captain Francisco Sanfilippo had an opportunity, but OCFC keeper Brandon Gomez came out to no-man’s land to make the stop and force a corner kick.
The referee had to stop play for a few minutes because OCFC keeper Brandon Gomez had to be subbed off with what was initially diagnosed as a broken left pinkie finger. Gomez had to be replaced and it was at that moment when Murphy’s Law or some form of bad luck struck OCFC because the coaching staff chose to dress one goalkeeper prior to the match against Albion. Obviously at that moment Captain Hindsight would have said that Paul Caligiuri should have dressed two keepers but someone had to be subbed in to play keeper and that man would be striker Jose “Chila” Montes.
Albion began the second half by putting more pressure on OCFC and keeper Montes gave the home side plenty to cheer about with some solid saves to keep OCFC in the lead. In the 56th minute, Albion got on the scoreboard when striker Amani Walker was given too much room in the midfield and he fired a long range shot that deflected off the crossbar and went into the net. Fifteen minutes later Albion were awarded a free kick just outside the OCFC penalty area after Alexander Ferreira was whistled for a foul on Walker, who took the kick and scored his second of the match. OCFC’s lead was cut to 3-2 and everyone could sense that Albion had all the momentum. In the 81st minute, Albion were awarded a penalty kick after a dangerous play call by the referee went against second half substitute Luis Leon.
Luis Leon was given a yellow card and center back Kuba Waligorski converted from the penalty spot and the match was tied 3-3. The comeback was completed for Albion in stoppage time when Tre Hayes finished off a pass from Walker and put his shot past Montes to give Albion a 4-3 lead. Seconds remained in the match and shortly after the referee ended the game.
“I am devastated by the result of this game,” said Canale. “The injury to Brandon was a big loss. He has had our back this whole season. He has done a phenomenal job, he is a great goalkeeper, and hats off to Chila for stepping in.”
This was a new feeling for the OCFC organization and supporters. We all know that everyone is happy when their team is winning but there can be finger pointing and identifying a scapegoat when things go bad. An obvious topic of discussion after the game was the decision by Caligiuri to not dress two keepers.
“I take full accountability,” said Caligiuri. “But it wasn’t the only reason why we lost.”
Center back Erik Mueller returned to the field of play as a second half substitute after a long battle with injury and he echoed a similar opinion about what took place against Albion.
“It was a risk we took and it didn’t pay off,” said Mueller. “There is nothing we can do about it except learn. It was a weird game. I think we let off the gas pedal and they were able to dominate us towards the end.”
The second half was all Albion and their long ball tactics created problems for the home side and some people wondered why OCFC were not pressing. Players and fans can wonder all they want but the fact of the matter is that the depth of OCFC has carried them all season long and now they will get to see how the team overcomes adversity.
“We will learn from our mistakes,” said Caligiuri. “We will grow and become more fierce.”