Dream season comes to an end for OCFC

by Art Eftekhari

ocfc fall to aguiluchos in battle of california

Irvine, CA - No matter what sport you are playing, there are always going to be those tough games and usual quotes or sayings such as “it wasn’t our night” or “we just couldn’t score.”

In the NPSL Western Regional Final away from home against CD Aguiluchos, it is safe to say that it was one of those games for Paul Caligiuri and OCFC.

Orange County were in control throughout the match and dominated the majority of possession only to fall victim to a scramble in front of the goal that was finished off in the 68th minute by Ross Middlemiss.

“We were the better team,” said keeper Brandon Gomez. “But their physicality and experience helped them towards the end.”

Aguiluchos held onto their 1-0 lead and OCFC were unable to find the equalizer on a frustrating night at Burrell Field in San Leandro, California.

Many players fell to the ground at the final whistle and some were in tears.

In soccer, it is easy to dwell on the negatives and the “what ifs” after being eliminated from the playoffs but looking back it is much easier to talk about the positives and how well OCFC played in their first season as members of the NPSL.

The regular season kicked off in March and OCFC didn’t experience their first defeat until a 4-3 loss to Albion SC in June.  

The home opener couldn’t have gone better as OCFC throttled Temecula FC by a score of 6-1. At that moment, it was easy to realize that many great things were forthcoming and it was during that game where we first heard about the I-5 Army, the official supporters of OCFC.

Throughout the season the I-5 Army was in full effect whether they were setting off flares, making noise, or trolling their rival fans on social media.

It was a fun season and nobody will forget the 3-3 tie at home against now defunct SoCal Sports Club as OCFC refused to quit when they looked down and out and trailing by three goals.

After their only regular season loss, many wondered how OCFC would respond.

Paul Caligiuri’s men responded with 13-0 and 11-0 victories over SC Corinthians and City of Angels FC and it was in those games that we saw striker Alessandro Canale score five goals in each game.

Canale finished the regular season as the co-Golden Boot winner with eighteen goals. The U.S. Beach National Soccer Team player showed why he was a force to be reckoned with as he finished the season by scoring thirteen goals in the final three games.

All season long Head Coach Caligiuri repeatedly mentioned the depth of his squad and no matter how many players got injured, we always saw a new player step up to make a difference on the field.

OCFC finished the season with ten wins, five ties, and one loss but during the defeat to Albion, it was keeper Brandon Gomez that had to be subbed off due to a gruesome left pinky injury.

After seeing images of the injury, it appeared as though Gomez would miss out on the remainder of the regular season.

Gomez was unable to play in the wins over Corinthians and City of Angels but he was between the posts for all three playoff games.

“He really shouldn’t have been playing,” said an anonymous family member. “But that’s Brandon.”

Gomez came up with big saves in the NPSL Western Region Quarterfinals as OCFC defeated Riverside Coras 1-0 on a goal scored by seventeen-year-old Tristan Weber.

One week later was the showdown in the desert against then unbeaten division winners FC Arizona.

Both meetings with Arizona during the regular season ended in scoreless draws but one team was going to walk away victorious no matter what.

Captain Michael Bryant fired a long distant laser from twenty-five yards out early in the second half and later it was Alessandro Canale who put the nail in the coffin as OCFC left the desert with a 2-0 victory.

There weren’t a lot of OCFC fans in attendance on that humid night in Mesa but their celebrations probably could have been heard in downtown Phoenix.

The loss against Aguiluchos will be tough to forget but the OCFC players will always have many great memories to talk about from their inaugural season in the National Premier Soccer League.

“Losing was tough,” said Brandon Gomez. “But it helps us grow. I am already looking forward to the US Open Cup with my brothers. We created a great bond.”

For OCFC, the 2017 NPSL Season wasn’t only about playing soccer. It was about a bunch of players coming together, believing in one another, and buying into the philosophies of coaches Paul Caligiuri and Ernie Richau.

“The loss against Aguiluchos was devastating,” said midfielder Armando Flores. “But we’ll be back.”

Owner Nader Debash is optimistic for next season and his optimism is contagious because the fans and organization expect nothing but the best moving forward.

Congratulations to Orange County FC on an excellent inaugural season in the National Premier Soccer League. You gave your fans plenty to cheer about and we can’t wait for next season!