Orange County FC visited first place Riverside Coras on Sunday, May 7th in a long-awaited match-up of two unbeaten teams. Riverside Coras got on the board two minutes into the match when a long throw-in from Cody Shelton went into the OCFC penalty area and Fernando Cabello headed the ball off the far post and into the net to give Riverside a 1-0 lead.
OCFC keeper Brandon Gomez made a last-ditch effort to clear the ball out, but the linesman confirmed that the ball had crossed the line. OCFC answered three minutes later when a left footed cross from winger Andrew Hernandez was headed home by striker Alessandro Canale to level the score at 1-1.
The match became a tight defensive display after the two scores but midfielder Armando Flores missed an excellent chance to put OCFC in the lead when he misjudged a cross in the Riverside penalty area. Entering the match OCFC were already at a disadvantage due to center back Erik Mueller ruled out due to a hamstring injury while leading scorer Staforde Palmer was unavailable. But in the 28th minute the job for OCFC became harder when left back Alexis Campos received his second yellow card in six minutes and was sent to the locker room early with a red card. Orange County FC had to play the remainder of the match with ten men.
Eight minutes before the end of the half OCFC midfielder Connor Gordon had a golden opportunity to put OCFC in the lead but his shot went over the bar after a nice run and cross from Armando Flores.
Despite being down one man since the half hour mark, OCFC continued to press and showed no signs of parking the bus. Twenty minutes into the second Alfredo Tapia put the hosts back in the lead with a point-blank opportunity in front of the goal after some excellent ball movement and teamwork. And in blink of an eye, OCFC equalized one minute later by way of a laser shot thirty yards out from midfielder Jonathan Romero.
Connor Gordon provided the assist to Romero and it was clear that the Riverside defense gave him a little too much room in the midfield.
“I tried to get into the pocket where I saw five to ten yards of space,” said Romero. “I had the ball and I just went for it.”
Romero showed his long-distance capabilities in the preseason, but his timing was perfect against Riverside as he scored his first goal of the season. Both teams continued the match trading possession and opportunities in what turned out to be an exciting match at UC Riverside.
In the 70th minute Cody Shelton saw OCFC keeper Gomez off his line and an attempt from well-beyond midfield from Shelton caused some nerves for the OCFC bench, but Gomez adjusted in time to make the stop. On the other end of the field Riverside keeper Alonso Lara was on top-form when he denied scoring opportunities from second half subs Jose Montes and Chris Gardea with eight minutes remaining. In the end both teams remained unbeaten as the match concluded in an exciting 2-2 draw.
OCFC wanted the win but earning a 2-2 draw on the road against first place Riverside definitely showed the character and fight of Paul Caligiuri’s men.
Defensive midfielder Michael Bryant was the man of the match as he wore the captain armband in the absence of center back Erik Mueller.
“Michael stepped up as captain and showed the amount of versatility he is able to display on both sides of the ball,” said Mueller. “Whether it was winning important defensive headers during the last five minutes of the game or playing the ball out of the back to start the attack, he had a good game.”
Striker and joint leading goal scorer Alessandro Canale echoed similar statements about Bryant and the overall OCFC team effort.
“Michael was a monster today,” said Canale. “We went down a man. It hurt but it also changed the mentality a little bit because it gave us more bite and we had to fight harder.”
Center back Ty O’ Connor – who started at right back the previous two games – was also impressive filling in for Mueller at center back. This season Orange County FC have shown their depth as one of the huge keys to their success but they also showed their heart and intensity against Riverside as they refused to park the bus after losing Campos to a second yellow card in the first half.
“We don’t stop until the game is over,” said O’ Connor. “We don’t park the bus, it’s not our style of play. We just keep going.”
The OCFC supporters and I-5 Army plan to keep going too when Orange County hosts FC Arizona next week in another NPSL Southwest showdown.