The Orange County Blues had all of the good fortune they could have hoped for in a tight Western Conference semifinal against Swope Park Rangers on Sunday, but despite gaining a two-man advantage before extra time, ultimately fell 2-1 in Kansas City. The result ends the Blues’ 2016 USL campaign.
All-time USL leading scorer Dane Kelly scored the go-ahead goal in the 105th minute, and the Blues could not equalize a second time in the match.
It looked like the Blues would start the game in perfect fashion, as Akwafei Ajeakwa was in on goal alone in the 10th minute, with only SPR goalkeeper Adrian Zendejas to beat, but his effort curved wide of the target, and the game stayed scoreless.
Ten minutes later, Mark Anthony Gonzalez opened the scoring for the hosts, as the Blues failed to deal with a cross from Kris Tyrpak and Gonzalez pounced on the ball in the box, slotting it past Josh Cohen to make it 1-0.
Much like last week, the Blues looked largely outmatched but still very much in the game in the first half, and gradually turned up their intensity in the second half.
The game really turned in the 68th minute, as Swope Park’s Ever Alvarado was shown a straight red card for a tackle from behind on AJ Gray. Orange County then quickly capitalized on the man advantage, as substitute Max Rauhofer scored on a scramble in the box to make it 1-1.
The visitors’ fortune improved even more in the 88th minute, as Tommy Meyer was shown a straight red card for an off-the-ball incident, as he stepped on Ajeakwa.
That meant the Blues had a two-man advantage for the duration, and while Kelly came very close to taking the lead for Swope Park Rangers deep in stoppage time, the game went to 30 minutes of extra time for the second straight week.
But SPR kept the Blues more than honest in first period of extra time, and in the 105th minute, Kelly converted on the counterattack from outside the box to put the 9-man Rangers ahead 2-1.
The Blues had a few chances in the second half of extra time, most notably when a cross from Richard Chaplow had to be cleared off the goal line by Christian Duke, but OC lacked the sharpness to really test Zendejas and find that necessary equalizer to take the game to penalties for a second straight playoff game.
So Swope Park Rangers will host the Western Conference final against Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2 next week, while the Orange County Blues’ season is over. It’s been a good run, and we’ll have plenty of follow-up content in the days and weeks to come.
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