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Orange County Soccer Club clinches playoff spot with win over San Diego

Orange County Soccer Club's Eric Calvillo, center, celebrates after scoring a goal on a free kick.
Orange County Soccer Club’s Eric Calvillo, center, celebrates after scoring a goal on a free kick in the first half against San Diego Loyal during a game at Championship Soccer Stadium in Irvine on Wednesday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

In the past week, Orange County Soccer Club has played like a team whose season was on the line.

Orange County has scored just three goals over its past three matches, but thanks to its play on the defensive end, the side continued to position itself well in the Pacific Division of the United Soccer League Championship.

Eric Calvillo scored off a free kick in the first half, and Orange County clinched a playoff spot with a 1-0 win over the San Diego Loyal on Wednesday at Championship Soccer Stadium in Irvine.

Orange County (13-10-7, 46 points) is on a three-game winning streak, with all three matches being won by the same final score. The most recent result was particularly consequential.

Orange County Soccer Club's Ronaldo Damus battles for control of a ball with San Diego Loyal's Elijah Martin.
Orange County Soccer Club’s Ronaldo Damus battles for control of a ball with San Diego Loyal’s Elijah Martin.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

With the win, Orange County is just one point behind San Diego (14-11-5, 47 points) for second place in the Pacific Division. The team that finishes in that spot would receive a home game in the first round of the playoffs.

Orange County also claimed the season series over San Diego, posting a 2-1-1 record across those four contests.

While San Diego dominated possession, it was Orange County that was able to break the deadlock in the 26th minute after Ronaldo Damus drew a foul on Collin Martin at the top of the box.

Calvillo stepped up to the free kick and bent it inside the left post to convert the opportunity.

“Obviously, people want to play great soccer and play possession-wise and building up and scoring goals,” Calvillo said. “But at the end of the day, the only thing that matters is who puts the ball in the back of the net and ends up winning the game.”

Later in the half, Damus came streaking into the attacking third on a counterattack, drawing a yellow card on Elijah Martin at the edge of the box. This time, San Diego goalkeeper Austin Guerrero (four saves) was equal to the task.

Orange County Soccer Club's Dillon Powers battles for a ball against the San Diego Loyal's Augustine Williams.
Orange County Soccer Club’s Dillon Powers battles for a ball against the San Diego Loyal’s Augustine Williams.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Orange County coach Richard Chaplow was left wondering why the play did not result in a penalty kick or a red card.

“I think if that goes our way, it’s a different game, but ultimately, we did what we had to do,” Chaplow said. “We stayed compact, we stayed organized defensively, and listen, the game is not always a perfect game, and people have to learn and understand that.”

Orange County, which started a back line of Kevin Alston, Michael Orozco, Kobi Henry and Brent Richards, did not concede a goal for the third consecutive match.

Midfielder Tommy McCabe also made a sliding tackle in the box to deny a centering feed in the 76th minute, and he was able to clear a goal-line cross by Charlie Adams in the 82nd minute.

Orange County Soccer Club goalkeeper Patrick Rakovsky blocks a shot during a game against the San Diego Loyal.
Orange County Soccer Club goalkeeper Patrick Rakovsky blocks a shot during a game against the San Diego Loyal.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

San Diego had dangerous chances late, including a bid by Augustine Williams swinging his right leg through an aerial cross from Corey Hertzog in the 85th minute.

Williams put his hands on his head in disbelief when Orange County goalkeeper Patrick Rakovsky (four saves) made the grab without leaving a rebound.

With its playoff spot secured, Rakovsky said Orange County will have to remain sharp if it wants to have a chance to host a game in the postseason.

Orange County has two games remaining — versus Las Vegas Lights FC (6-21-3, 21 points) on Saturday, then at L.A. Galaxy II (11-13-6, 39 points) on Oct. 30.

“Let’s go into that [Las Vegas match], win it, and then we have one week until Galaxy,” Rakovsky said. “Let’s see what the situation is then, and then every game is a knockout game.”

The game had intrigue into stoppage time. Callum Montgomery got onto the end of an Adams corner kick in the final seconds, but his header landed in the arms of Rakovsky once more.

“We wanted to win the game, but I’m very proud of the way that we go to a team that is high in the standings and we basically play like the home team, and we dominate the game all over the field,” San Diego coach Landon Donovan said.

“It’s tough to lose on a great goal by Calvillo, but I’m really proud of our group, and they can all hold their heads high. They were the team that tried to play tonight.”

An Orange County Soccer Club fan wears a mask during a game against the San Diego Loyal at Championship Soccer Stadium.
An Orange County Soccer Club fan wears a mask during a game against the San Diego Loyal at Championship Soccer Stadium in Irvine on Wednesday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

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