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Orange County Soccer Club notches 1-0 win over visiting Phoenix

Orange County Soccer Club forward Sean "Ugo" Okoli scores a goal in the first half of against the Phoenix Rising.
Orange County Soccer Club forward Sean “Ugo” Okoli scores a goal in the first half against Phoenix Rising at Championship Soccer Stadium in Irvine on Saturday.
(Raul Roa / Staff Photographer)

Nothing has come easy for the Orange County Soccer Club this season, but one goal was enough to achieve a result on Saturday night.

Sean “Ugo” Okoli provided the lone scoring strike for Orange County in its 1-0 victory over Phoenix Rising FC at Championship Soccer Stadium at the Great Park in Irvine.

“We’re playing Phoenix, so they’re probably one of the top teams in the league,” Aodhan Quinn said. “We had to go back-to-back with them, and we got four points, so we think that’s great.

“We got Ugo a goal, which is great, so his confidence will be high.”

Orange County Soccer ClubSean "Ugo" Okoli celebrates scoring a goal.
Orange County Soccer Club forward Sean “Ugo” Okoli celebrates scoring a goal in the first half against Phoenix Rising on Saturday.
(Raul Roa / Staff Photographer)

Orange County (1-0-2) has managed just two goals through three matches. In doubling its goal production for the season, Orange County earned its first win of the season, remaining in fourth place in the Group B standings of the United Soccer League.

Phoenix Rising (2-1-1) came into the night tied with the San Diego Loyal for first place, but Phoenix (seven points) dropped into third place after wins by San Diego (3-1-1, 10 points) and the L.A. Galaxy (3-1-0, nine points).

Although the possession heavily favored Phoenix through the first 15 minutes, it was Orange County that found itself in space in transition. Daniel Crisostomo sent a ball ahead for Darwin Jones. The speedy forward beat Zac Lubin, the Phoenix goalkeeper, to the ball and took a touch to put it past him, but Jones lost his footing in pursuit and the ball rolled wide of the right post.

Orange County would continue to showcase its speed in the period that followed, and it broke through when Quinn played an aerial ball in behind the Rising’s back line. Ugo snuck in behind the defensive position of Corey Whelan, playing the ball on a hop before beating Lubin in the 20th minute.

Orange County Soccer Club midfielder Seth Casiple tries to control the ball.
Orange County Soccer Club midfielder Seth Casiple tries to control the ball during Saturday’s match.
(Raul Roa / Staff Photographer)

“I played with [Quinn] before back in our under-23 and college days, so I know he’s capable of playing that [long] ball,” Ugo said. “I just try to be alert and get on the end of it when it came.”

Looking to draw even late in the first half, Junior Flemmings lofted the ball over Orange County goalkeeper Frederik Due. Seemingly left alone at the goal mouth, Santi Moar took an uncontested shot and banged it off the crossbar.

A frustrated Moar was not long for the game, as he was ejected after a confrontation with Orange County head coach Braeden Cloutier. Phoenix was left to play a man short for the entire second half.

Orange County squandered a golden opportunity of its own, as Quinn missed a penalty kick over the cage in the 62nd minute, keeping the score a one-goal margin.

Due had to make just one save in recording the shutout for Orange County.

“Tactically we made an adjustment today, and we dropped our line five yards and kept things really compact,” Cloutier said. “We know that Phoenix is a team that has tremendous pace up front. They have really good quality up front, and if you give them space in behind, they’re going to run into it, take it, and they’re scoring to score goals.

“For us, it was about being compact, being organized, keeping a clean sheet, but we knew on the other end with Darwin and Ugo that we were going to create opportunities for ourselves.”

The match was played without any fans in the stadium, but a couple of dozen vocal supporters took in the contest from outside a fence along the outskirts of the facility.

Orange County will travel to take on Sacramento Republic FC (1-1-2) on Wednesday at 8 p.m.

As opposing team players react, Orange County Soccer Club goalie Frederik Due reaches out for a ball that hit the crossbar.
As players react, Orange County Soccer Club goalie Frederik Due reaches out for a ball that hit the crossbar and bounced away from the goal.
(Raul Roa / Staff Photographer)

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