In a historic NPSL opener for both FC Arizona and Orange County FC, the two expansion sides played out a 0-0 draw Saturday night at John D. Riggs Stadium in Mesa.
The excitement of the occasion matched the intensity on the field, as both teams traded chances until the very end, hoping to mark their league debuts with a victory.
It was FC Arizona though, who created the game’s two best chances, hitting the woodwork twice in a three-minute span in the first half.
Costa Rican forward Alejandro Aguilar started things off, striking the post with a shot in the 25th minute. Then, captain Jose Manuel Rivera’s lob from thirty yards out struck the crossbar with keeper Brandon Gomez off his line.
That was the closest either team would come to scoring, as both goalkeepers earned their first clean sheets of the season.
FC Arizona head coach Aidan Davison was happy with his team’s defensive effort, but was frustrated that they couldn’t score given the number of chances they created.
“We looked pretty solid defensively, but just needed a bit more quality tonight in the final third,” he said. “That’s where we needed to have that real quality, that cutting edge, and that let us down tonight.”
Rivera said it was especially disappointing to be held scoreless after winning their final tune-up match against Real San Jose 5-0. Still, he felt there were some positives to take away from the team’s first NPSL performance.
“We created our chances,” he said. “We are happy with the game, but not with the result because at home we have to win.”
While FC Arizona controlled the play for much of the first half, Orange County FC grew into the game after the intermission.
Alexis Campos went close with a free kick near the hour mark, sending his left footed effort just over Andrew Weber’s crossbar.
Minutes later, OCFC head coach Paul Caligiuri brought on striker Jose Montes de Oca, who seemed to energize the visitors. In fact, Orange County looked the more likely team to snatch a winner in the game’s final ten minutes.
In the 79th minute, Montes de Oca tried his luck from 40 yards, but his drive just dipped over the crossbar. A few minutes later, the striker called Weber into action to stop his right-footed effort from the top of the box.
While Orange County only came away with a point, Caligiuri was happy with the result and the way his young team performed on opening night with just a short pre-season under its belt.
“I don’t think our chemistry is there yet,” he said. “We’re six weeks old as a team, with a lot of young players averaging almost 22 years of age. This was a great experience for us. It was a great opening to the NPSL season and we’re super excited to be part of this league.”
Davison was equally enthusiastic about the excitement of hosting opening night and thanked the FC Arizona fans for their strong support.
“This is the start, so without the fans we’re nothing,” Davison said. “We want to win for the fans, but they’re certainly getting behind us and we’re thankful for that and we hope it continues.”