It would be a pair of unlikely heroes that made the difference for Orange County Blues FC in their home victory Saturday. The Blues continued their streak to three wins, earning a critical three points in their 1-0 win over Austin Aztex at Anteater Stadium.
Nikola Ilich came off the bench in the 23rd minute for an injured Didier Crettenand,
and about ten minutes later, volleyed the game’s only goal. Goalkeeper Billy Thompson sealed the victory in 2nd half stoppage time with an impressive penalty kick save and resulting rebound.
The Blues took a 1-0 lead late in the first half as Ilich recorded his first professional goal of his career. It came in the 35th minute as Christopher Santana received the ball up the right sideline, holding it in the corner and waiting for runs to come through the box. As he crossed the ball to the far side of the pitch, Ilich was ready for a one-time left footed volley, screaming the ball past Aztex goalkeeper Devin Perales.
The rookie’s goal came after both teams exchanged an array of chances. The momentum carried over into the second half as possession remained even between the teams. The Aztex thought they had an opportunity as forward Trevin Caesar dribbled up the left side towards the box, but Blues midfielder Luka Petricevic came in from behind to stop the attack. However, Petricevic was given his second yellow card of the night, causing the midfielder to be sent off for the remainder of the match, leaving OC with 10 men.
Despite being down a man, Thompson made the game winning save at the end of stoppage time. A handball in the box by defender Josh Suggs gave the Aztex their best opportunity to even the score. Andres Cuero stepped up to take the penalty, driving it within Thompson’s reach for the quick diving save. The ball ricocheted off of his hands giving the Aztex a rebound shot, but Thompson’s quick recovery stole their best chance of the night away from them. Thompson’s strong play both in the box as well as coming out to make crucial saves allowed the Blues to hold on to their 1-0 lead, and move them past Tulsa Roughnecks FC and back into the playoff picture in the Western Conference.
Orange County improves to 10-8-3, with 33 points. Austin Aztex fall to 7-11-3, with 24 points.
The Blues next travel to Scottsdale Stadium where they will take on ArizonaUnited SC on Saturday, August 15th, with kickoff slated for 7:30 p.m. PT.