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Orange County SC claims USL Championship crown with win over Tampa Bay Rowdies

The Tampa Bay Rowdies USL Championship Final match against Orange County SC at Al Lang Stadium.
Orange County Soccer Club celebrates its win over the Tampa Bay Rowdies in the USL Championship final on Sunday at Al Lang Stadium.
(Courtesy of Matt May / Tampa Bay Rowdies)

Orange County Soccer Club capped a historic season Sunday, using a three-goal first half to come away with a 3-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Rowdies in the United Soccer League Championship final at Al Lang Stadium in St. Petersburg.

Forward Ronaldo Damus scored twice for Orange County (17-10-9). The Haitian national team member finished the season with 18 goals, and he was named the MVP of the championship game.

“I feel good because the dream was to win a championship with Orange County,” Damus said through an interpreter. “I feel much better now because I won the MVP.”

Damus opened the scoring in the 25th minute. Eric Calvillo applied pressure to Jordan Scarlett, who attempted a pass along Tampa Bay’s back line. Damus intercepted the pass and found himself with an empty net to shoot at, converting the opportunity.

“I wanted [our back line] to be 10 yards higher up the field, which would then push our forwards closer to the ball, which would then allow us to get more pressure on it, hopefully, allow us to disrupt play a little more,” Orange County coach Richard Chaplow said. “The first 20 minutes was just actually trying to get people to be a bit braver off the ball, push higher, be more aggressive, get in their face, because any team’s a good team if you don’t put pressure on them.

“The first time we really put a little bit of pressure on somebody, they gave us the ball. We score a goal. That settled us down.”

The Sailors rally from a three-touchdown deficit to defeat the host Golden Bears 42-35 in the CIF Southern Section Division 6 final on Saturday night.

It was the same combination that came together for Orange County’s second goal in the 38th minute. Calvillo made a run down the right sideline and skipped a cross into the box for Damus, who took a touch to control the ball before sending a shot into the left side of the cage.

Tampa Bay (26-8-2) had a chance to get on the board first, as Yann Ekra drew a foul against Kevin Alston in the box. Orange County goalkeeper Patrick Rakovsky made a diving save to his right to deny Sebastian Guenzatti on the ensuing penalty kick.

“I definitely knew that he was the type of player that is going a lot across his body, so right foot to the left,” Rakovsky said. “I basically decided already when he put the ball down that I’m going to that side. Luckily, he didn’t shoot it low or high. Quite a lot of power behind it, but it wasn’t right to the post, so it was a nice ball for the keeper.”

Rakovsky made six saves and punched out a couple of entry passes that were sent into the box.

“Does it surprise me when he makes these saves? Absolutely not,” Chaplow said of Rakovsky. “I see them all the time. We knew the quality of keeper we were getting when we signed him. I’m delighted for him. We’re all getting to see the [quality saves] first-hand, although, I would have liked to have seen them slightly less today.”

Mikko Kuningas tacked on for Orange County in the 45th minute, tucking in a free kick inside the left post to extend the lead to 3-0.

“It’s an extremely proud moment,” Oliver Wyss, general manager and president of soccer operations for Orange County Soccer Club, said. “I couldn’t be happier for the club, the organization and for everybody involved.”

Leo Fernandes scored in the second half for Tampa Bay, which emerged out of the Eastern Conference after winning the Atlantic Division with a league-best 71 points this season.

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