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Orange County SC loses, splits back-to-back set with L.A. Galaxy II

Orange County Soccer Club midfielder Aodhan Quinn, right, heads the ball against L.A. Galaxy II forward Augustine Williams.
Orange County Soccer Club midfielder Aodhan Quinn, right, heads the ball against L.A. Galaxy II forward Augustine Williams during the first half of a United Soccer League match at Championship Soccer Stadium in Irvine on Saturday.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

A heat wave has hit Southern California.

Few teams had been hotter than Orange County Soccer Club, which came into Saturday with just one loss through its first nine matches.

Facing the L.A. Galaxy II for the second time in four days, Orange County was unable to complete the sweep, dropping the match 2-1 at Championship Soccer Stadium at the Great Park in Irvine.

The game-time temperature was 98 degrees, and Orange County left itself an uphill climb once again. In the first of back-to-back home games against the Galaxy on Wednesday, Orange County was able to rally after giving up a goal just two minutes in.

Orange County Soccer Club forward Sean Okoli, right, competes against L.A. Galaxy II defender Jalen Neal.
Orange County Soccer Club forward Sean Okoli, right, competes against L.A. Galaxy II defender Jalen Neal during the first half on Saturday.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

It would not be so fortunate on the back end, a slow start costing Orange County a chance to put separation between itself and the Galaxy in the United Soccer League Championship playoff race.

The Galaxy (6-4, 18 points) pulled even with Orange County (5-2-3, 18 points) for second place in Group B. The top two teams in the group advance to the playoffs. Phoenix Rising FC (7-2-2, 23 points) is in first place.

Orange County conceded an early goal for the second consecutive contest. A pass played into space by Jonathan Perez was tracked down near the top of the box by Augustine Williams, who authored a one-touch finish to send the ball past goalkeeper Frederik Due (two saves) in the eighth minute.

The Galaxy kept the pressure on. A turnover in the attacking third sent Perez in with company, and Due made a kick save to deny the scoring chance in the 25th minute.

Orange County Soccer Club defender Rob Kiernan, top, heads the ball against L.A. Galaxy II forward Augustine Williams.
Orange County Soccer Club defender Rob Kiernan, top, heads the ball against L.A. Galaxy II forward Augustine Williams during the first half on Saturday.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Only two minutes later, Sebastian Nava earned a free kick working against Kevin Alston, who was shown the yellow card for his foul at the top of the box. Mauricio Cuevas capitalized on the free kick, as his shot avoided the player wall and went into the right side of the goal for a 2-0 lead.

The best chance of the first half for the hosts came just before halftime. On a give-and-go, Brian Iloski redirected a pass into the center of the box for Sean “Ugo” Okoli. He put his hands on his head in frustration after his attempt went well over the crossbar.

Orange County played like a desperate side in the second half, penetrating deep into the attacking third and creating several quality chances to score.

“I feel like we need to have that kind of urgency the whole game. It’s as simple as that,” Iloski said. “It’s almost like we need a wake-up call these last couple of games, these last few games to get going. I don’t know why that is, but we have to change our mindset coming into games.”

Orange County finally broke through in the 60th minute. Aodhan Quinn sent a shot off the inside of the left post. Okoli chased down the rebound to the right side of the goal and fed the ball back into the box, where Cameron Palmer was able to convert on a header to cut the deficit in half.

It was just the second time this season that Orange County has allowed multiple goals in a match. The other occasion resulted in Orange County’s only previous loss, a 3-1 defeat at Las Vegas Lights FC on Aug. 25.

“I think we were confident coming into the game, but ultimately, the first half killed us,” Palmer said. “Obviously, we gave them two cheap goals, and from there, it’s an uphill battle. We knew in the second half that we just had to go for it, and we did that. On another day, we could have taken more chances and gotten a draw or won the game.

“Very disappointed, but we can’t really dwell too much on it because we’ve got games coming up, and we’re still in a decent position.”

Orange County will travel to face Sacramento Republic FC on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m.

Orange County Soccer Club defender Michael Orozco heads the ball against L.A. Galaxy II.
Orange County Soccer Club defender Michael Orozco heads the ball against L.A. Galaxy II during the first half in a United Soccer League match at Championship Soccer Stadium in Irvine on Saturday.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

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