By W.G. Ramirez/NPSL.com
Blake Frischknecht remembers walking on to the infield at Cashman Field, just north of Las Vegas’ glittery downtown lights. He was with his third-grade honor choir then, singing in front of a baseball audience.
Wednesday night he returned to Cashman Field with his Orange County FC teammates.This time he left a hero.
Moments after USL Championship’s Las Vegas Lights scored a game-tying goal in the 85th minute, Frischknecht found the back of the net in the 89th minute to put Orange County back in front for good. Oscar Flores added an insurance goal a minute later and Orange County FC notched its second straight upset in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup with a 5-3 victory over the Lights in the third round.
“I saw them tie it up and I thought this is gonna be a battle the last five minutes,” Frischknecht said. “I thought if I got one chance in the game, I’d put it away. I hadn’t had that great chance yet, and when that one fell at my feet, I had to take advantage and put it in the back of the net.”
Orange County FC, which is currently in second place of its conference in the NPSL with a total of 29 points, now awaits Thursday’s draw to see which Major League Soccer team it will face in the fourth round of the country’s longest-running soccer tournament.
“I knew with everything I have in my thought and my mind about my team going into it that they would put everything and leave it all on the field,” Orange County coach Paul Caligiuri said. “It was just a matter of facing a very tough opponent, they’ve done a lot of great things here at Las Vegas Lights and it’s a testament and my guys are inspired to play against a great team like that.”
Despite being outshot 24-16, and being out possessed 65.6 percent to 34.4, it was Orange County playing with resiliency and a chip on its shoulder the entire night, continuing the pattern its played with the entire tournament.
OCFC was outshot 22-10 in its opening round win over Golden State Force, and it trailed 2-1 in the second round before coming-from-behind to defeat Orange County SC burying all five shots after a scoreless overtime.
“These guys are blue collar as blue as the ocean gets,” Caligiuri said. “They were inspired just to be a part of this game and reach this level and now we get to face an MLS team hopefully. I know that some of these guys on my team want to reach the next level and hopefully these performances, people out there will take notice.”
Cody Shelton, the team’s leading scorer with eight goals, opened the scoring in the sixth minute when he found the upper left corner of the goal to give OCFC a 1-0 lead.
Orange County caught a break when Las Vegas defender Mobi Fehr tried to kick the ball past Frischknecht, and on to goaltender Angel Alvarez, but shot wide of his netminder and into the net in the 16th minute, making it 2-0.
Las Vegas’ Santiago Echavarria cut Orange County’s lead in half when he squeezed his penalty kick just past Preys in the 23rd minute, but OCFC wasn’t finished in the first half. After a long kick from Preys, a pair of headers downfield placed the ball perfectly for Dakota Collins, who took it to the box and fired past Alvarez to make it 3-1 just before halftime.
The Lights wasted no time in the second half, as it cut the lead back down to one goal when Echavarria fed Edwin Rivas, who blasted a shot past Preys in the 47th minute to ignite the announced gathering of 2,378.
Las Vegas tied it moments after Orange County’s Aaron Lombardi got yellow carded for drilling Lights forward Santiago Echavarria. Newly signed Lights forward Jose Villareal fired a free kick into the box, where Junior Sandoval headed the ball past traffic and Preys to tie the game in the 85th minute, 3-3, setting the stage for Frischknecht’s heroic moment.
“We have a group of guys that have a chip on their shoulders, these guys work jobs 9-to-5, not all of them are in college,” Frischknecht said. “For us, we want to take advantage of the opportunity. We had a great game against OCSC. We won that and after that we were like ‘we have nothing to lose, we’re gonna come after these teams with everything we got.’ So, we just went at them with everything we had.”
Photo Credit: Victor Bernard Photography