Orange County FC were looking to remain unbeaten as they traveled south to face Albion PROS, last season’s conference winners. Led by coach Ziggy Korytoski, Albion were the more physical team playing in front of their home crowd at Mission Bay High School.
The first half was scoreless but physical play from Albion got yellow cards for Michael Sauers and Sean Callahan but in the last minutes of the first half, Albion were reduced to ten men when Travis Nicklaw was given a straight red card for elbowing OCFC left back Daniel Yo in the face.
Anthony Morales was brought on and OCFC received terrible news as Daniel Yo was diagnosed with a broken nose.
Albion outshot OCFC with attempts on goal and shots on target but they were unable to beat OCFC on a certain statistic: goals.
All season head coach Paul Caligiuri has pointed out that the depth of his squad has been the ingredient to success and the game against Albion continued to prove his theory correct as first half substitute Staforde Palmer gave OCFC a 1-0 lead nine minutes into the second half.
Center back Erik Mueller sent a perfect long ball that made its way past the Albion defense and got to Palmer. The English striker, cool as always, was challenged in no-man’s land by keeper Jean Antoine and Staforde Palmer half-volleyed the ball past Antoine.
Even though they were playing one man down, Albion didn’t play like they were shorthanded and continued to pressure OCFC.
Soon after Palmer’s goal, Albion forward Amani Walker had a header go over the bar on a corner kick but the save of the game took place minutes later when Brandon Gomez made a diving save to his left to stop a free kick from David Luquen that was taken just outside the OCFC penalty area.
The save from Gomez was world-class and it appeared as if he knew where the ball was going.
“I don’t remember what I was thinking,” said Gomez. “It was a reaction because if I put my wall at the first post, that second post is mine.”
Both teams continued to trade possession in a back and forth game as Mueller had a header go over the bar on a corner kick in the 65th minute.
Three minutes later Gomez was called into action again when he denied a shot from midfielder Felipe Liborio.
Minutes continued to tick off the clock and Albion kept up the pressure. OCFC fans and members of the I-5 Army in attendance anxiously looked at the clock as time was winding down.
Midfielder Tristan Weber could have iced the game in stoppage time but his shot in the penalty area went over the bar. Albion had their last chance to equalize with a corner kick opportunity that even saw keeper Antoine join the attack but a cleared ball to Armando Flores led to Antoine having to make a dangerous slide tackle from behind, which resulted in a red card.
It was another huge victory for OCFC in a game that contained excellent play from sixteen-year-old OCFC debutant Tristan Weber. After the game the young midfielder surprisingly admitted to having a few butterflies in his stomach despite already being capped at the youth international level.
“Coming into the game I didn’t really know what to expect,” said Weber. “I never played in an NPSL game before but it was definitely high quality and with the fans cheering me on it was awesome.”
With quality performances from players such as Michael Bryant, Staforde Palmer, Brandon
Gomez, and Tristan Weber, it was difficult for Caligiuri to select the Man of the Match. But with another organized and disciplined defensive performance, it comes as no surprise that the Man of the Match was Erik Mueller. The OCFC captain earned his second assist of the season and continued to demonstrate his leadership on the field.
Head coach Paul Caligiuri was proud of the effort from his players but it was also hard for him to feel happy due to the injury to Daniel Yo in the first half.
“Even though we won the game, it does feel like a loss,” said Caligiuri. “Daniel has been fantastic for us all season.”
The OCFC players will all agree that nobody on the roster can replace Daniel Yo but they all agree on one thing: somebody must step up.