OCFC Advances to Second Consecutive West Region Final
Entering the 2018 NPSL season, Orange County was viewed as a team to beat after its success one year ago.
But the only loss for OCFC in the regular season came against FC Golden State on June 1st at Championship Soccer Stadium.
Back in April, both teams played out a scoreless draw. But during both meetings with OCFC and FC Golden State, it was the latter that dominated possession.
Yet early on it was Orange County that had the better opportunities to take the lead but English midfielder Peter Gregory’s free header in the box went over the bar after receiving a cross from Dakota Collins.
Minutes later Alessandro Canale received a perfect through ball but was unable to put his shot past Golden State keeper Pepe Miranda.
OCFC was the better team to start the match but it was the hosts who made the visitors pay for their mistakes when center back Gabriel Silva fired a shot past Brandon Gomez to put FC Golden State in the lead.
But it didn’t take long for OCFC to answer back.
After some nice build-up it was Gregory who kept the play alive in the Golden State penalty area and sent in a cross that was headed into the far corner by striker Alessandro Canale to level the score at 1-1 in the 31st minute.
Both teams traded possession as the first half winded down but neither team was able to find the go-ahead goal as the score remained tied going into halftime.
Neither bench made any changes to start the second half, but immediately after the restart it was evident that OCFC was determined to change its fortunes against the only team that it failed to beat or hold a lead against during the regular season.
Right before the hour mark, Orange County FC took the lead through Collins and two minutes later the lead was extended to 3-1 when Canale scored his second of the night after finishing off a cross from Gregory.
The OCFC fans in attendance erupted and although the match was played on the road, it is safe to say that the OCFC supporters made all the noise and created an electrifying atmosphere at Rio Hondo College in Whittier.
It came as no surprise that Golden State picked up the intensity and physical play after Orange County had taken a 3-1 lead.
Throughout the night there was a lot of physical play, but it was expected with a ticket to the West Region Final at stake.
OCFC continued to defend well and stepped up the intensity as time ticked away, but it was only fitting that the hosts scored a late goal in the 86th minute to cut the lead to 3-2.
The stage was set for a dramatic and intense finish as FC Golden State pushed everyone forward in an attempt to find the equalizer and force extra time.
The OCFC fans remained confident in the hopes that their squad would feed off the energy.
FC Golden State created more chances, but Gomez was once again on top of his game and the OCFC backline continued its solid play behind the leadership of center backs Patrick Ianni and Cody Shelton.
Finally with stoppage time approaching, it was two of the second-half substitutes that sealed the victory for Orange County FC.
Striker Jose Montes de Oca and winger Kevin Jeon showed perfect teamwork in a give-and-go that resulted in Jeon rounding keeper Miranda and placing his shot into an open net to give OCFC a 4-2 lead.
Once again, the visiting supporters erupted in delight and the OCFC players jumped for joy because they knew they had just booked a ticket to the West Region Final.
There was hardly any drama during the five minutes of stoppage time.
Orange County FC held firm and it was clear that the squad executed the game plan of head coach Paul Caligiuri.
OCFC was the better team throughout the night and didn’t look like the same team that was unable to beat FC Golden State during the regular season.
For the second year in a row, Orange County FC was unable to win the NPSL Southwest. But this is also the second year in a row where Orange County FC has gotten the better of its Southwest rivals in the NPSL playoffs.
Contributor: Art Eftekhari/Orange County FC
Photo Credit: Nicolai Dejbakhsh/Orange County FC