IRVINE, Calif. – Down a man half-an-hour in against one of the best attacks in the USL Championship, it might have been a dangerous spot for Orange County SC.
Instead, OCSC’s own danger man proved the difference as Ronaldo Damus’ goal in first-half stoppage time saw the 10-player hosts earn a 1-0 victory against Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC on Saturday night at Championship Soccer Stadium before a crowd of 4,194 in the Western Conference Quarterfinals of the 2021 USL Championship Playoffs, presented by TwinSpires.
Orange County will advance to host Oakland Roots SC in the Western Conference Semifinals next weekend at Championship Soccer Stadium as they look to return to the Western Conference Final for the first time since the 2018 season.
As the teams squared off for the second time this season, the game opened evenly and it wasn’t until the 12th minute when Hadji Barry had an early sighter from 25 yards that he fired toward the bottom-left corner to force a save from Orange County’s Patrick Rakovsky. The OCSC shot-stopper was almost caught out a few minutes later, meanwhile, as Thomas Amang charged down an attempted clearance and retrieved possession on the right side, but couldn’t deliver an accurate cross as the defense recovered.
Orange County’s first chance came midway through the first half as after a long throw-in from the right by Brent Richards was headed clear, Mikko Kuningas caught a shot on the volley that bounced wide of the right post. The hosts tested Switchbacks goalkeeper Sean Melvin more fully just before the half-hour mark with a flicked header by Rob Kiernan that was saved before the pursuers going for the rebound were ruled offside, but Kiernan was then sent off a few minutes later for bringing down Amang as he broke onto a through-ball by Barry just outside the penalty area, receiving a red card for denial of a goalscoring opportunity as the hosts were reduced to 10 men.
Amang believed he had broken the deadlock eight minutes before halftime as another probing through-ball split the Orange County back line for the Cameroonian to run onto, but the offside flag was raised as he finished cleanly into the right corner of the net. The visitors continued to control the play up a man, but in the first minute of first-half stoppage time the tie was flipped on its head as Orange County took the lead on an inspired piece of play by Damus. After another long throw-in was cleared, Tommy McCabe mishit a shot from 25 yards that came straight to the Haitian international, who controlled and thundered home a left-footed shot on the turn into the top-left corner as the hosts went to the break ahead.
Colorado Springs was unable to take advantage of its extra man early in the second half as it looked for an equalizer as Orange County’s defensive structure remained solid while the hosts were also able to slow the game down earning free kicks as the Switchbacks were aggressive in trying to regain possession. On the hour-mark the chance almost arrived for the visitors, however, as a sweeping move from right to left opened up to Dillon Serna, who lifted a cross to the far post where it was kept in for Amang, whose chance was blocked away by a defender.
Eight minutes later a half-chance almost came to Barry as he controlled a cross from the left by Zach Zandi but was crowded out before a tame shot rolled through and was easily saved by Rakovsky. Deshane Beckford then fired a near-post shot from the right side of the penalty area that was parried wide for a corner kick, and then again a minute later from 25 yards as Rakovsky had to claim at the second attempt after his palms were stung by the effort.
As the Switchbacks controlled possession, though, Orange County offered it few avenues to penetrate defensively as efforts came from the outside. With five minutes to go, Badji found a chance from a narrow angle as Beckford played him into the right side of the penalty area, but Rakovsky was alive to the danger and came off his line to smother the opportunity. Another long-range effort by Zandi slid just wide of the left post as the game moved into stoppage time, meanwhile, but the hosts held firm, seeing out the closing stages to earn their first postseason victory since 2018.
USLChampionship.com Man of the Match
Patrick Rakovsky, Orange County SC – Rakovsky recorded a five-save shutout as the hosts battled for almost an hour down a man to earn another clean sheet as his impressive individual late-season performances continued.
OC – Ronaldo Damus (Tommy McCabe) 45+1’