Brian Brown fights to win the ball in Reno's 3-1 victory over Orange County at Greater Nevada Field. | Photo courtesy Jeff Mulvihill Jr. / Reno 1868 FC
RENO, Nev. – After being limited to just seven starts over Reno 1868 FC’s inaugural campaign last season, forward Brian Brown is making the most of his opportunities in year two.
The 25-year-old Jamaican led his side with 16 goals in 32 appearances during the regular season and scored arguably the most important goal of his career last Saturday when he headed home Duke Lacroix’s cross in the 92nd minute to give 1868 FC its first ever playoff win, a dramatic 1-0 victory over Real Monarchs SLC in the Western Conference Quarterfinals.
“We knew he was a good player last year,” Reno Head Coach Ian Russell said of Brown. “He didn’t get a lot of time, but he was a big priority for us in the offseason because he can score goals. And he’s proven it.”
Over the past month and a half, the West’s No. 5 seed has also proven it belongs in the conversation of legitimate USL Cup contenders. Reno’s victory over the Monarchs saw the side extend its unbeaten run to eight games, which included a 0-0 draw at No. 3-seed Phoenix Rising FC and a 3-1 home victory over top-seeded Orange County SC in the club’s regular-season finale.
Now, 1868 FC travels to Champions Soccer Stadium looking to replicate that result against Orange County on Saturday (10 p.m. ET | Match Center | ESPN+) in the Western Conference Semifinals of the 2018 USL Cup Playoffs.
In the clubs’ most recent meeting on October 13, Reno frustrated an Orange County offense – that ranked fourth in the USL with 70 goals during the regular season – by breaking up the play with 24 interceptions and winning 57.6 percent of its duels. Lacroix says 1868 FC is confident heading into this weekend’s matchup on the back of that success but is wary that his former club will be looking for revenge on its home turf.
“We had a good run of it the last time they came up here,” Lacroix said of Orange County. “It’ll definitely be fresh on their minds. They are going to want to defend their home. They play well at home, but we also play well on the road.”
Orange County is one of just five USL teams to record 11 or more victories on their home turf this campaign, with the club reaching that threshold in its comfortable 4-0 win over No. 8-seed Saint Louis FC last weekend in the Western Conference Quarterfinals. Meanwhile, Reno lost only twice away from Greater Nevada Field during the regular season (7-2-5) and showed off its road resolve once again last Saturday by eking out a win against the Monarchs at Zions Bank Stadium.
1868 FC picked up a point on its only trip to Irvine this season, playing out a 2-2 draw against OCSC in a match that saw Brown and Danny Musovski on the scoresheet for the visitors. Reno Goalkeeper Matt Bersano, who has kept a clean sheet in five of his last six outings, believes that there are still plenty of people that doubt his side’s chances this weekend and hopes the group can continue to prove its doubters wrong by reaching the Western Conference Final.
“We’ve already outdone what everyone expected. Not by us, but everyone else in the league,” Bersano said. “You see the percentages and everyone is against us. Everyone expects Orange County to win. We don’t care about that, we’re playing on house money now.”