IRVINE, Calif. — It was a feisty affair between Orange County SC and Phoenix Rising as the two teams played for the second straight match Saturday night.
After a 1-1 draw between the two sides last Thursday, this time a dominant Orange County side bested a 10-man Rising, 1-0, through a first-half Sean Okoli strike. Phoenix returned to the Championship Soccer Stadium pitch, which players felt didn’t meet playing standards.
“It’s good [to play back to back] because we know their tenancies,” OCSC midfielder Aodhan Quinn said. “But like I said, they’re one of the top teams so it’s always going to be tough.”
The field conditions possibly cost Orange County two goals. In the 14th minute, OC’s Darwin Jones was released into a one-on-one with Phoenix keeper Zac Lubin, but as Jones laid the ball around Lubin and circled the keeper, Jones slipped at the pivotal moment and the ball rolled out for a goal kick.
Then, Quinn slipped on his run up on a 62nd-minute penalty, sending his shot over the crossbar.
“I should have put it away,” Quinn said. “It should have been 2-0 but the guys helped me out and we got the win today.”
Despite missing out on the first breakaway chance, Orange County had another just six minutes later as Okoli broke beyond the Rising backline, allowing the ball to bounce low enough for a first-time left-footed volley to beat Lubin at his near post and give the home side a 1-0 lead.
“In those moments it’s more just an instinct type of thing,” Okoli said. “Either way I’m happy it went in the net.”
OCSC had sustained pressure for the first 10 minutes of the match before having a true chance of its own, and the goal provided a swing in momentum as Orange County continued to attack.
Phoenix could have equalized in the 42nd minute when a lobbed ball from the left side found an open Santi Moar at the back post inside the six-yard box, but his volley rattled the crossbar.
Just before the half, Moar and Orange County head coach Braeden Cloutier got into an altercation, seeing both earn yellow cards, Moar’s second, sending him off and reducing Phoenix to 10 men. Cloutier appeared to toss the ball away from Moar, who was making his way over to collect the ball from the touchline, and Moar shoved Cloutier in retaliation.
“I’m trying to play quick, too” Cloutier said after the game. “I wanted to get the ball back into play.”
With 15 minutes left in the 90, and Orange County keen to make amends for the missed penalty, substitute Kevin Coleman gifted Okoli a low cross along the grass onto Okoli’s right foot, but the striker got underneath the shot and lifted it over the goal.
Orange County had three chances in the 86th minute onward to put the game to bed but struggled to find the target on any of its efforts.
“I think we could have been a little bit more clinical with our finishing,” Cloutier said. “I think it was actually good for us to defend a 1-0 lead just to prove to the players they have to be disciplined and organized.”
Without fans in attendance, OCSC filled several sections with cardboard cutouts while fans peered in from outside the grounds at the Orange County Great Park, providing a consistent presence with songs and chants throughout the match.
“It’s awesome,” Quinn said. “We can hear them. They’re amazing. We thank them so much for coming out. We know they’re with us.”
Orange County heads to its first away match since the coronavirus pandemic, playing at Sacramento Republic FC on Wednesday at 8 pm.
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