Orange County SC host Phoenix Rising FC on Saturday night in the USL Western Conference Final at Orange County Great Park in Irvine.
It’s the biggest game in both teams’ history, as they look to win silverware for the first time.
What’s the background this season between these teams? They met three times, and it didn’t get any more even than this. Let’s take a quick tour back:
Orange County SC 1, Phoenix Rising FC 1: March 17
The season opener, taking place at Orange County Great Park, ended in a stalemate between the teams. Hilariously, the announcers for this game seemed to think OC would be chopped liver this season, and while an offseason turnover can be hard to predict, it is safe to say the announcers really did not expect OC to be up for the task, let alone in the Western Conference final come season’s end.
Anyway, onto the game: Solomon Asante grabbed an early lead for Phoenix, just 11 minutes in, but Orange County grinded the rest of the game, and found an equalizer in the 90th minute following a downpour through substitute Alex Crognale. Yes, the backup center back for this game, but anyone who’s followed OC this season knows Crognale has scoring skills, and this was the first taste with his new team.
Phoenix Rising 1, Orange County 0: June 29
Notable change since the first meeting: Phoenix head coach Patrice Carteron resigned earlier in June to coach abroad, and Arizona soccer fixture Rick Schantz stepped in for the rest of the season. Truth be told, Schantz probably has a better understanding overall on USL and no surprise, Phoenix continued to be a strong team even after their first coach this year took off.
Tough night here for Orange County, as former OC Blues striker Chris Cortez scored in the 13th minute. The visitors got a lifeline when Phoenix defender Cody Wakasa was sent off in the 35th minute for a DOGSO offense, and OC pushed hard to get an equalizer, but nothing doing in this one. They put the ball in the back of the net midway in the second half, but it was chalked off for offside.
This game is also notable because goalkeeper Andre Rawls appeared to hurt his ribs during back-to-back challenges in the second half, and he sat out several games after, so either way, he was hurt. Some have argued that after returning Rawls lacked some sharpness, and while he’s been playing great in the playoffs, that injury certainly wasn’t great for him or OC, although both appeared to weather the adversity well enough.
Phoenix Rising FC 3, Orange County SC 4: August 11
The most recent clash between the teams ended in Orange County’s way on the road, but it was a wild game where the winning side likely understood they were lucky to escape with a win, even after scoring four goals.
Believe it or not, the scoring didn’t start until the 39th minute. Phoenix’s tricky playmaker Alessandro Riggi suffered a major injury just minutes in and was replaced early, but Michael Seaton got the visitors on the board first. It was the only goal of the first half.
After the restart, OC added to their lead through Thomas Enevoldsen, and then Aodhan Quinn from the penalty start. Seaton added a second goal in the 67th minute, and Orange County were comfortably cruising 4-0, a lofty scoreline OC had held other times this year.
But Phoenix kickstarted a furious comeback. First, Asante scored a penalty a minute after Seaton’s final goal to make it 4-1. Asante scored his second goal five minutes later, and finished his hat trick in the 94th minute. Again, fortunately for Orange County, Phoenix ran out of runway and the game ended before they could add a fourth goal.
So what does all of this tell us?
- The teams ended with identical 1-1-1 records against each other this year
- They scored an identical number of goals, five (and also conceded five).
- But! Didier Drogba was not involved in any of these games. He will be playing on Saturday. Will that push Phoenix over the top, or will Orange County’s coherent play win out? Stay tuned.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!