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Orange County Soccer Club delights fans with win in home opener

Orange County Soccer Club players celebrate a goal by midfielder Chris Wehan, bottom second from right, in the home opener.
Orange County Soccer Club players celebrate a goal by midfielder Chris Wehan, bottom second from right, during the first half against Sacramento Republic FC in a home opener game at Championship Soccer Stadium in Irvine on Saturday.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

The feeling was mutual on Saturday night between Orange County Soccer Club and its fans – each excited to see the other – as the club played in front of its home crowd for the first time in 442 days.

Both parties also got what they were looking for. Orange County notched a 1-0 victory over Sacramento Republic FC, sending the 1,986 in attendance at Championship Soccer Stadium home happy.

“It’s great to have fans in the stands because you could feel the energy,” Orange County coach Braeden Cloutier said. “The atmosphere was tremendous tonight, the fan support. It was electrical, and I definitely know that the players fed off of that, and obviously it helped us get the result that we needed.”

In a homecoming of sorts, forward Chris Wehan provided the scoring for Orange County (1-1) in its home opener. He snuck past the defense and cashed in when Thomas Enevoldsen played a through ball into the left side of the 18-yard box.

Wehan attended Aliso Niguel High School, which is about a 15-minute drive from where he now plays his home matches.

Orange County Soccer Club midfielder Chris Wehan, center, plays against Sacramento Republic FC in the home opener Saturday.
Orange County Soccer Club midfielder Chris Wehan, center, plays against Sacramento Republic FC during the first half in the home opener at Championship Soccer Stadium in Irvine on Saturday.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

“My dad’s here, my wife’s here, my sister’s here, and then I have my wife’s brother and his wife are out here, which is cool,” Wehan said. “They’ve never seen me play. They’re from Tennessee, so they’re out here to see me play and hopefully they had a good time.”

The goal gave the fans something to cheer about it. A cloud of orange powder was released into the air in celebration.

Blaine Jenks, 33, of Santa Ana, a member of the fan group “County Line Coalition,” watched games from outside the stadium fence during a 2020 season that was played without fans due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“It is fantastic,” Jenks said of being back in the stands at halftime. “Way more numbers out. It’s buzzing tonight. It was kind of cool being outside the fence, a little different, but it’s way better being inside the stadium.”

The roar of the crowd was heard again in the 82nd minute. Enevoldsen created a turnover and had a breakaway on goal from beyond midfield, but he pushed the scoring bid wide right with Luis Felipe in a full-sprint pursuit for Sacramento (2-1).

Fans cheer for the Orange County Soccer Club players as they play against Sacramento Republic FC on Saturday.
Fans cheer for the Orange County Soccer Club players as they play against Sacramento Republic FC at Championship Soccer Stadium in Irvine on Saturday.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Orange County goalkeeper Patrick Rakovsky was asked to make just two saves behind a back line that featured Rhys Breen, Rob Kiernan and Michael Orozco. Neither shot on target came from inside the box.

“That just should explain how good our back line is, and also our midfield,” Rakovsky said, calling the clean sheet the product of a strong team performance.

Breen impressed as a shutdown defender, inserting himself into passing lanes and blocking shots.

“I think the biggest compliment for Rhys is that [Sacramento] brought [forward Kharlton] Belmar off at halftime,” Cloutier said. “He couldn’t get going. He couldn’t get started. I think that’s the biggest compliment. Rhys was fantastic tonight.”

Orange County Soccer Club forward Ronaldo Damus, top center, attempts to score with a header against Sacramento Republic FC.
Orange County Soccer Club forward Ronaldo Damus, top center, attempts to score with a header against Sacramento Republic FC in the home opener game at Championship Soccer Stadium in Irvine on Saturday.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Breen credited communication from teammates for his success, saying, “The guys were speaking to me, and they were making my job a lot easier.”

Orange County will be at home against the L.A. Galaxy II on Saturday, May 29 at 7 p.m.

Earlier in the week, Orange County progressed to the least-restrictive yellow tier in the state’s reopening guidelines concerning the coronavirus pandemic. The new tier designation allows for outdoor sports venues to operate at 67% capacity, an increase from 33% in the orange tier.

Carlos Camey, 56, of Orange, came to the game with his son Brian, expressing that he just wanted to be out and about on the weekend.

“We live in Orange, so it’s just a few minutes away, and it’s kind of nice to come in,” Camey said. “There’s no problem with parking, it’s a safe environment. I mean, there’s a lot of pluses. It’s nice. It’s a nice atmosphere.”

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