Orange County SC’s penchant for wild games seemed to have tailed off on Saturday as they hosted Phoenix Rising FC for the first time in 2017.
This was one of those games where it was obvious right away that Orange County was trying to hang on, a game to grit your teeth and grind it out and try and get something from it. In the end, they did that, getting a 1-1 draw as the teams split a pair of free kicks to cap off, yes, a wild conclusion.
The teams’ exchanged chances throughout, but it was obvious OC would not be able to play a free-flowing game and dictate the tempo. Things got worse when Carlos Alvarez suffered what appeared to be an ankle injury early on and was replaced by the 30th minute. Alvarez had scored two goals in the last two games, and he was the closest thing Orange County had to a playmaker on the field.
But credit to OC, they held Phoenix back, particularly Omar Bravo and Didier Drogba, and as the minutes ticked on, it looked like it might end 0-0.
And then things started to get wild. In the final 15 minutes, the teams started to get chippy, and frankly, both sides appeared to try and intimidate a young-looking referee. By far the worst offender was Drogba, who stopped the game for about three minutes on his own while complaining in alternating turns to the referee and fourth official.
With the bad blood in the air, Orange County was granted a giant lifeline in the final 10 minutes, as Phoenix goalkeeper Josh Cohen (formerly an Orange County player) was judged to have handled the ball outside the 18-yard box. A free kick was awarded on the very edge of the box, and up stepped Roy Meeus, who hit a go-ahead strike in the 84th minute. It’s Meeus’ third goal of the season in league play, and fifth across all competitions.
So from there, it seemed like Orange County may be able to steal a win, if stealing a win at home is truly a thing. But deep in stoppage time, OC conceded a free kick of their own very close to their box, and — who else? — Drogba stepped up and buried his free kick to tie it up in the 94th minute. The victory slipped away, but on balance a draw was a fair result for Orange County’s performance.
Now, a win would have catapulted Orange County up the Western Conference standings, instead of leaving them to inch up the points total but remain in 13th place. They still have between three and six games in hand on the rest of the conference right now, but they’ll have to actually pick up wins to make those games valuable. Orange County haven’t lost since returning from their long bye in league play, but they’re going to need to start getting more wins, and next up is a road test, in Washington to take on Seattle Sounders 2 next Sunday. Can the shorthanded side get it done? We’ll find out.
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