Orange County SC opened the 2018 USL regular season with a 1-1 draw against Phoenix Rising at Champions Soccer Stadium in Irvine. Center back Alex Crognale came off the bench in the final 10 minutes and scored the equalizer in the 90th minute for the hosts.
Phoenix grabbed the lead in the 11th minute, as Billy Forbes sent a low cross through the 6-yard box that was latched onto by Solomon Asante.
But Orange County largely controlled the run of play in the first half, pushing Phoenix in footrace after footrace up the pitch. They had a shout for a penalty 30 minutes in when Oscar Sorto went down, but no call came. Then Michael Seaton had a shot slam off the crossbar shortly before the break.
While OC continued to have a sizable edge in possession, the second half calmed down somewhat and the chippy play that is common in USL crept in. Both teams had chances to score, but it looked as though a Didier Drogba-less Phoenix would escape Irvine with three points.
Then Crognale stepped in. The defender, on loan from Columbus Crew SC, came off the bench in the 82nd minute, and had two good looks on goal, converting on the second just before stoppage time. Although the big center back is known for being good with his feet, seeing the composed strike inside the box to tie up the game was something of a surprise.
The result gives OC a lift after a decent performance where sloppiness threatened to leave them without any points. 11 of the 14 players who featured in the game are new to Orange County this season, and it was the first game in charge for Braeden Cloutier. There’s certainly potential on display, and perhaps with a few weeks of game action, they can round into good form.
Orange County stay home for their next match, next Saturday against Sacramento Republic FC. These teams have had some very good games over the years — will OC be able to get one over on the NorCal side at home next week? Stay tuned.
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