Orange County SC opened the 2021 USL Championship season on Sunday, but the result wasn’t what they were seeking, as they lost 1-0 to Tacoma Defiance at Cheney Stadium.
OCSC were the last team in the league to get underway this season, and playing a Tacoma side with two games already under their belts, the visitors had more visible rust on the day, although it was a close match throughout.
Braeden Cloutier brought in six newcomers to the starting lineup, in Patrick Rakovsky, Brent Richards, Tommy McCabe, Chris Wehan, Ronaldo Damus and Adam Jahn.
Thomas Enevoldsen got the first good look of the day for Orange County, as he ran onto a ball that dropped in an opportune spot in the 16th minute, but his effort sailed over the mark.
Tacoma got their winner in the 21st minute, as Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez received a pass, dribbled to make room, and hit the stripe that beat Rakovsky in goal.
As the first half wore on, OCSC struggled to string together possession upfield, with Tacoma disrupting passing lanes and both teams putting in characteristically tough tackles at this level.
Jahn had a sharp cross/shot around the 35th minute, but it was caught by Tacoma goalkeeper Christian Herrera. Shortly after, Jahn went down under no contact with what looked like it could be a knee injury, the player in agony as he was being evaluated, and Cloutier immediately replaced Jahn with another newcomer, Eero Markkanen. Here’s hoping Jahn’s injury isn’t the worst case scenario.
Orange County found a few pushes forward before halftime, but they still struggled to hit a rhythm and really test Herrera, and the teams went into the break with Defiance leading 1-0.
In the 59th minute, Orange County made their second substitution of the day, with Mikko Kuningas replacing Brian Iloski.
It looked like Damus might have scored at the hour mark, but his attempt just missed the mark, as OCSC seemed to be getting closer to an equalizer. Two minutes later, a Richards throw-in into the box nearly led to an Orange County goal, only for the attempt on the scramble to be blocked on the goal line. Then Damus got the ball in the back of the net in the 64th minute, but it was chalked off on an offside call.
In the 80th minute, OCSC made their last change, with Jack Imperato making his debut in place of Damus, who had a very active day but still working on getting his timing and finishing just right, like the rest of the team.
Considering it’s the first game of the season and it was on the road, I don’t think a narrow loss is the end of the world for OCSC, obviously. And I think Tacoma, who have started the season unbeaten, are going to be a competitive team, possibly a playoff contender, this season, so take nothing away from them. But if Tacoma’s going to be a good team this year, the margins become razor-thin in the Pacific Division, and hopefully Orange County can learn from this season opener and pick up their level soon as they find some match rhythm.
Orange County are next scheduled in action on Saturday, when they will host Sacramento Republic for their home opener in Irvine. Republic have won their first two games of the season, and both of these teams fancy themselves title contenders, so it’s going to be a big one!
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