Orange County Soccer Club (OCSC) (2-3-3) tied with the Oakland Roots (1-5-4), 2-2, with an underwhelming second-half performance in Irvine, Calif. at Championship Soccer Stadium on Saturday, May 7.
With Oakland coming off tough draws in their last two road games, having only one win in their last five games and having yet to defeat OCSC in club history, it seemed that OCSC had the upper hand going into the game.
OCSC started off rapidly attacking as midfielder Tony Rocha’s left-footed shot barely grazed the right side of the box assisted by forward Milan Iloski.
OCSC continued to apply pressure within the first 10 minutes of the game as midfielder Alex Villanueva sent in a beautiful cross to superstar forward Sean “Ugo” Okoli. Okoli’s header was barely saved by Oakland’s 23-year-old goalkeeper Benny Diaz.
15 minutes into the game, OCSC continued to dominate as Iloski drew a free kick just outside the box. However, his shot missed a bit too high outside of the left box.
Perseverance paid off for OCSC 22 minutes into the game as Iloski connected with Okoli on a cross from the left side of the box. Okoli fired a right-footed shot from the right side of the six-yard box that squeezed past Diaz into the bottom right corner of the net; this gave OCSC a 1-0 lead as Championship Soccer Stadium erupted with cheers from the home crowd.
After about 13 minutes of back and forth action between both teams, OCSC found themselves with another scoring opportunity. This time it was set up through a free kick taken by Danish midfielder Daniel Pedersen as he lobbed it through the center connecting with the head of Albanian defender/midfielder Albi Skendi. The 28-year-old hit a header from the center of the box, and the ball found its way to the bottom left corner of the net. This put OCSC comfortably ahead 2-0 a mere 35 minutes into the game.
The goal was Skendi’s first ever goal with OCSC. After the game, Skendi reflected on this once-in-a-lifetime experience.
“It feels amazing, it’s been a long time coming,” Skendi said. “I’ve been getting in the box, I’ve had chances, but this one just felt right, and I’m glad. I’ve had a shaky start and this sort of gives me the confidence boost that I needed.”
The first 10 minutes of the second half started to foreshadow the upcoming events as 36-year-old veteran and team captain Michael Orozco Fiscal was given a yellow card after an unnecessary foul.
This was followed by a powerful shot by Oakland and Southampton Academy forward Charlie Dennis, as his left-footed center of the box shot hit the crossbar. The assist came from Venezuelan defender Alejandro Fuenmayor via a headed pass that followed a corner kick attempt 59 minutes into the game.
Nine minutes after the close call by Dennis, the Roots continued to persist this time with Venezuelan defender Edgardo Rito, who found the back of the net with a right-footed shot from the center of the box to the center of the goal. The goal was assisted by midfielder Mikael Tørset Johnsen, who cut the OCSC lead to 2-1 68 minutes into the game.
The Roots continued to battle all the way to the end. Tensions ran high late in stoppage time in the 90+4’ as the Roots earned a free kick just outside the box from an accidental handball by Skendi. Oakland forward Óttar Karlsson fired a left-footed shot to the top left corner of the goal that snuck past OCSC goalkeeper Patrick Rakovsky tying the game 2-2. Shortly after the goal, the referee blew the whistle signaling the end of the game.
After the comeback from the Roots, OCSC head coach Richard Chaplow had some words of encouragement heading into next Friday’s game against Tulsa FC.
“We just got to regroup with the lads, and we have a game on Friday again here at home, so we got to recover the day after tomorrow and we are back on the grass Monday to prepare for another game. So it comes thick and fast, and right now the more games the merrier for us because we really need to try and get into our rhythm,” Chaplow said.
OCSC look to bounce back as they host FC Tulsa, the No. 8 seed from the Eastern Conference, at Championship Soccer Stadium in Irvine, Calif. on Friday, May 13.
Marcos Gonzalez is a Sports Staff Writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.