IRVINE, Calif. – Sean Okoli converted the decisive shot in a penalty shootout as Orange County SC earned the Western Conference title in the 2021 USL Championship Playoffs, presented by TwinSpires, with a 5-3 victory from the spot against San Antonio FC after the sides had played to a 1-1 draw through 120 minutes before a sellout crowd of 5,386 fans at Championship Soccer Stadium on Saturday night.
The victory sent Orange County to the 2021 USL Championship Final, where it will face the Tampa Bay Rowdies on Sunday, November 28 at 8:30 p.m. ET at Al Lang Stadium. The game will air live on ESPN, ESPN Deportes and SiriusXM FC.
The sides exchanged goals through the opening three rounds of the shootout despite SAFC goalkeeper Jordan Farr going the right way on Orange County’s opener by Seth Casiple and OCSC goalkeeper Patrick Rakovsky getting a piece of Santiago Patino’s shot to close the second round. The hosts went ahead again to start the fourth round as Thomas Enevoldsen’s shot to the bottom-left corner was just beyond Farr’s reach, but then San Antonio’s Justin Dhillon stepped up and shot wide of the left post, clipping the upright on its way through.
Okoli stepped up with a chance to clinch to open the fifth round and made no mistake, sending his shot bottom-left corner beyond Farr’s dive to send his teammates and the sellout crowd on hand into celebration for a second consecutive round, and maintain Orange County’s perfect record in three postseason shootouts in the club’s USL Championship history.
San Antonio had made the slightly more positive start of an even opening, but the first good look on goal didn’t arrive until the 17th minute when the visitors looked to spring out on the counterattack. Marcus Epps’ initial attempt to thread a through-ball for Jose Gallegos was blocked, but the ball came to Nathan Fogaca in the left channel, and the Brazilian controlled and struck a good low shot that was saved by Rakovsky.
Epps also had a go himself five minutes later with a shot from the top-left corner of the penalty area that went wide of the near post, but then Orange County started to find its feet in the final third. A clever spin move by Brent Richards as he received a pass from Mikko Kuningas after making an underlapping run into the right channel set up a near-post shot that Farr had to be alert to, while Kuningas also fired a narrow-angle shot from the right that was saved just before the half-hour mark.
Orange County also threatened in the 32nd minute when Kuningas’ corner kick from the right found Michael Orozco at the back post for a header that just slid wide of the left post. Seven minutes later, though, the hosts took the lead as a long throw-in from the right by Richards reached Haiti international Ronaldo Damus 10 yards from goal for a turning volley that picked out the bottom-left corner of the net.
San Antonio began to build pressure as the second half developed but was unable to find a clear opening as Orange County’s defense closed space quickly whenever the visitors threatened inside the penalty area as both Fogaca and PC had chances charged down inside the penalty area. The equalizer arrived in the 67th minute when Epps skied above his marker at the back post to get on a cross from the right by Connor Maloney and head home into the bottom-left corner of the net.
Epps went close to putting San Antonio ahead with eight minutes to go as he received a pass inside the top-left edge of the penalty area, cut inside on his right foot and curled a shot that clipping the outside of the right post and went behind.
After having difficult creating chances in the second half, Orange County had the first good chance of the first period of extra time as a free kick from the right was cut back to Thomas Enevoldsen for a first-time shot near the penalty spot that was headed behind by San Antonio midfielder PC. The hosts threatened from the final set piece of the period as well, with a whipped cross being punched half-clear by Farr before Damus had a shot blocked. The ball caromed to Rob Kiernan, whose low shot was denied by Farr as he regained position before a second effort by Damus was redirected onto the crossbar by Okoli and smuggled away to safety by San Antonio’s defense as the game remained level.
San Antonio then had an opportunity early in the second period when Dhillon fired just over from 25 yards, while in the 110th minute Epps almost added to his second-half equalizer with a curling shot from the top-right edge of the penalty area that went wide of the left corner. Okoli also had a shot comfortably saved a few minutes later from the top of the penalty area for the hosts, and Casiple shot just wide of the right post with four minutes to go, but no breakthrough arrived as Orange County advanced after holding their nerve from the spot.
USLChampionship.com Man of the Match
Dillon Powers, Orange County SC – Powers converted his penalty kick in the second round to cap a find all-around display that saw him complete 50 of 70 passes, record one shot and one key pass and record 18 recoveries and win 14 of 20 duels in midfield.
OC – Ronaldo Damus (Brent Richards) 39’
SA – Marcus Epps (Connor Maloney) 67’
Orange County SC – Seth Casiple, scored; Dillon Powers, scored; Ben Mines, scored; Thomas Enevoldsen, scored; Sean Okoli, scored
San Antonio FC – Connor Maloney, scored; Santiago Patino, scored; Jasser Khmiri, scored; Justin Dhillon, missed