Orange County SC beats Oakland on PKs, advances to Western Conference finals
Orange County Soccer Club edged Oakland Roots SC in a penalty-kick shootout, 6-5, on Saturday night in the Western Conference semifinals of the United Soccer League Championship at Championship Soccer Stadium in Irvine.
After the sides failed to score in regulation and extra time, Patrick Rakovsky made the lone stop of the shootout, diving to his left to turn away a shot by Akeem O’Connor-Ward, who was the sixth Oakland player to step up to the spot.
Ronaldo Damus was called upon to take the next shot for Orange County (16-10-8). He was initially stopped by Paul Blanchette, but Damus got to retake his penalty kick because it was ruled that the Oakland goalkeeper came off his line early.
Given a second chance, Damus took advantage of the opportunity.
“In the beginning, I felt very bad because the team had put the opportunity on my back, and I missed it,” Damus said through an interpreter. “So when I missed the first one, it made me very upset because the team had put me on their back.”
“But when the referee said I had another chance to make the goal, it brought my morale back up, so it gave me another chance to make the second goal and put the team on my back.”
Mikko Kuningas, Dillon Powers, Seth Casiple, Thomas Enevoldsen and Sean Okoli also made their penalty kicks for Orange County, which was able to convert in every round of the shootout.
Unbeaten in its last seven matches, Orange County has allowed just one goal over that span. While the club would like to create more scoring chances from the run of play, the results have Orange County returning to the conference finals for the first time since 2018.
“At the end, we kind of figured out our style,” Rakovsky said. “It’s maybe not the prettiest. It’s not one where you’re like, ‘Oh yeah, Orange County plays great soccer.’ It’s not that kind, but what is it now, seven games, one goal conceded? If you don’t concede a goal, you don’t lose, so that’s kind of how we are playing. It’s not the prettiest, but we are winning.”
Orange County will host the Western Conference final against San Antonio FC on Saturday at 7 p.m.
A crowd of 5,158 showed up to take in the conference semifinal, and Rakovsky gestured to the fans for support just before Damus retook his penalty kick.
“I’m very happy for everyone’s performance in every game,” Orange County defender and captain Michael Orozco said. “We go out there and we try to give the top performance, not just for ourselves, but for all of our fans and family. I think we all deserve it, the city deserves this, so I hope more people come out to our final. We’re going to win it, but we need everyone to be with us.”
Orange County is now 9-3-3 overall since a midseason change had Richard Chaplow take over as head coach for Braeden Cloutier. The club rewarded Chaplow for the second-half success by removing the interim tag from his title as head coach last week.
Chaplow said his team showed resilience during the second-half turnaround that led to Orange County claiming second place in the Pacific Division.
Orange County had a feat of a different kind in the semifinals, defeating Oakland for the fifth time this season.
“To beat somebody five times out of five is impressive, so delighted we were able to pull it off,” Chaplow said. “Didn’t want it to go through penalties, but again, it’s character-building. Everything that’s been thrown at us in the past three months or whatever it’s been, two and a half months, we’ve grown from, and delighted that we could do that again today.”
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1:33 p.m. Nov. 16, 2021: This story has been updated with quotes from post-game interviews.
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