It was a night of drama on Friday at Orange County SC, as the club held their grand opening of their new stadium at Orange County Great Park and Sola Abolaji made a major impact in his USL debut, scoring the late equalizer in a 1-1 draw against Phoenix Rising FC.
The game very much fit the pattern of recent OCSC games, with the team struggling to gain much in the way of crisp attacking play but largely defending well. After Phoenix took the lead early in the first half, it looked like the result would be a disaster until Abolaji’s intervention.
Chris Cortez got some revenge on his former team in the 18th minute, challenging Charlie Lyon playing out of the back and poking the ball past him to score. It was a big mistake by Lyon, no question, and for much of the game it looked very costly. It was also a blow for Lyon, who has been stellar this season, with this maybe being his second or third real mistake all campaign.
OC got a lifeline courtesy of another former player, as AJ Gray picked up a straight red card in the 43rd minute for a late challenge on a 50-50 ball against Juan Pablo Ocegueda.
In the second half, Orange County turned up the intensity, and the result was that they held a 23 to 3 edge on shots taken by the end of the game, a whopping imbalance until you realize that only four of the 23 shots OCSC took were on target. Obviously, Phoenix packed the box and defended deep in the second half, but Orange County still lacked the killer edge needed to score a couple goals and take the win, considering how much pressure they had in Phoenix’s box.
That said, OC equalized in the 89th minute through a headed goal from debutant Abolaji. The center back, on the squad all season but until now a spectator, came off the bench in the 80th minute and was in the mixer at the right time, taking the cross to the far post from Jerry van Ewijk and beating Carl Woszczynski in the goal to make the most of his first action.
The result is double-edged for Orange County. Yes, they could have really used a win here for their playoff hopes, but in the context of the game, when it looked like they were going to lose to a 10-man team, getting a late goal to grab a draw is obviously a much sunnier result. It puts them in a three-way tie on points for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, but that is pending the rest of the weekend results, and we’ll see where they stand on Monday.
Orange County finally get a break of sorts, as they get to wait a full week for their next game, Friday at home against OKC Energy. Here’s hoping the week off will bring some spring back into their legs as they get ready for the final 11 games of the season.
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