Friday night was busy for the local USL teams, as LA Galaxy II continued their fine form away from home and Orange County SC and Phoenix Rising FC played a thriller.
The headlines likely go to the latter game, as OC and Phoenix played to a 1-1 draw at the grand opening for Orange County’s new stadium at Orange County Great Park. Unlike last time, Didier Drogba didn’t make it out for the match for Phoenix, with only Shaun Wright-Phillips from their cadre of stars starting on the night.
It didn’t initially appear that Drogba would be much missed, as a colossal mistake from Orange County gave Phoenix the lead near the midway point of the first half. Former Orange County forward Chris Cortez pressured OC’s defense, and when the ball was played back to goalkeeper Charlie Lyon, a lack of awareness and a poor touch led to Cortez poking the ball away and scoring into an open net.
Phoenix remained firmly in control until halftime, but another former OC player, AJ Gray, gave his former team a lifeline just before the break, as he was late on a 50-50 challenge with Juan Pablo Ocegueda and picked up a straight red card.
From there, Orange County pressed for an equalizer in the second half, and by it was all over, the hosts had a 23-to-3 edge in shots, remarkably. But of those 23 shots, only four were on target, a sign of Phoenix’s stout defense and perhaps some bad luck for Orange County, but also indicative of the attacking slump the team has been in lately.
But the equalizer did come, in the 89th minute, courtesy of probably the least likely candidate. Defender Sola Abolaji had yet to make his USL debut all season, but he came off the bench in the 80th minute to see his first action. The veteran then scored the comeback goal, heading in Jerry van Ewijk’s cross to the far post and ensuring OC a share of the points on the night.
— USL (@USL) August 19, 2017
Truthfully, a draw didn’t especially help either Phoenix or OC, who are both in need of wins to vault back into the playoff spots in the Western Conference. But on a night when it looked destined for Orange County to lose a pretty important game on a big night for the club, getting the late draw almost felt like a win, and taking a point is always better than taking none. The result leaves Orange County a point out of the final playoff spot and Phoenix Rising three points away, so there’s room for both teams yet to make a run to the postseason.
In other action on Friday, LA Galaxy II faced Colorado Springs Switchbacks, and the new-look Galaxy II came away 2-1 winners. New-look is perhaps a misnomer, as the likes of Jack McBean, Ariel Lassiter and Alejandro Covarrubias have come into Mike Munoz’s lineup to provide much-needed experience and stability at the USL level, and McBean and Lassiter connected on the game’s opening goal in Colorado Springs, coming shortly after halftime.
While the Switchbacks came back into the game and tied it up through Aaron King in the 77th minute, LA got a final stroke of luck late, as Sean McFarlane scored an own goal three minutes from time to give the visitors the lead. The result still leaves Galaxy II adrift of the chasing pack for the playoffs, but every win brings them closer to contention, and if they can fire off a late run they could very well breath down the necks of Phoenix and Orange County, among others, to make the race for the playoffs even more interesting.
All three teams are in action next weekend, with Orange County hosting OKC Energy FC on Friday, Phoenix hosting Sacramento Republic FC on Saturday, and LA back on the road to play Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2 on Sunday. Mark your calendars accordingly.