Orange County SC goalkeeper Patrick Rakovsky has recorded six shutouts in his past eight appearances, playing a key role in the club's run to the 2021 USL Championship Final on Sunday night against the Tampa Bay Rowdies. | Photo courtesy Liza Rosales / Or
IRVINE, Calif. – It takes more than a goalkeeper at the top of his game to find success in the USL Championship Playoffs.
It requires a strong collective squad across the starting lineup and substitutes, those who can make the decisive play at either end of the field, and sometimes that little bit of good fortune any run in the postseason needs.
Still, it certainly hasn’t hurt Orange County SC to have arguably the hottest goalkeeper in the Championship between the sticks over the course of the past month.
With key saves both down the final stretch of the regular season and in all three games of the club’s trip to the 2021 USL Championship Final – the first in its history – goalkeeper Patrick Rakovsky has been at the forefront.
“Obviously Patrick’s been fantastic for us, not just recently but throughout the whole season,” said OCSC Head Coach Richard Chaplow this week. “What he has had in the past 16, 17 games is a consistent run in selection – we had a little bit of a rotation going on there [with Abraham Romero] midseason. We know Pat’s a high-quality goalkeeper, so we’re delighted to have him with the organization, and he’s now showing not just with his performance but statistically just how solid he is.”
Rakovsky’s numbers since mid-October are eye-catching. In eight games, he’s recorded six shutouts, conceded only two goals and posted a save percentage of 92.6 percent. He also came up with a key save in the side’s penalty shootout victory in the Western Conference Semifinal victory against Oakland Roots SC, the first of two shootout wins Orange County has earned to reach Sunday’s showdown with Eastern Conference title winner the Tampa Bay Rowdies at Al Lang Stadium (8:30 p.m. ET | ESPN | ESPN Deportes | SiriusXM FC).
Not bad for a player who made a leap of faith across the Atlantic to join Orange County last offseason after competing professionally in his native Germany as well as Belgium and Finland previously.
“I have stumbled many times, just to get up again,” Rakovsky told Transfermarkt.us’s Manuel Veth this week. “Looking back, however, I have to say my career was successful. How many people can say that they earn money playing this game? Of course, you will always wonder what could have been, but, for me personally, it turned out very well.”
As at prior stops, Rakovsky wasn’t handed the starting role immediately at Orange County either. After starting the first five games of the season for the side, opportunities were given to fellow goalkeeper Abraham Romero – another offseason arrival at the club from the LA Galaxy II – as the two competed for playing time.
Orange County SC's strong defensive play has been a key factor in the club claiming a berth in Sunday's 2021 USL Championship Final. | Photo courtesy Liza Rosales / Orange County SC
Since the club’s midseason coaching change that installed Chaplow – formerly the club’s captain as a player and assistant coach – as its new Head Coach, however, Rakovsky has played 15 of the club’s 16 games to close the regular season and in the playoffs. In that span overall he’s posted eight shutouts, a save percentage of 81.3 percent and a 0.57 goals-against average, putting him among the league’s elite in terms of numbers.
His contributions have been those his teammates have valued highly.
“He’s always talking, always communicating what he wants and expects from everybody out there on the pitch,” said OCSC captain and former U.S. Men’s National Team defender Michael Orozco. “Honestly I think he’s one of the best ‘keepers in the league because of his performance and his experience that he has.”
Rakovsky and his teammates will get the biggest stage Orange County has played on at Al Lang Stadium this weekend, and the German acknowledges the Rowdies – featuring their own standout goalkeeper in Golden Glove winner Evan Louro – will be the favorites going in.
But as well as Orange County and Rakovsky have competed to get this far, the underdogs and their airtight approach are ready to try and spring a surprise.
“Tampa Bay will be the clear favorites,” Rakovsky told Veth. “They are the reigning champions, have played a fantastic regular season. But perhaps our strength is that we are going to be underestimated. Also, we have a compact defense. That's our biggest strength.”