OCFC grind out victory over Riverside in NPSL Playoffs

by Art Eftekhari

Irvine, CA – The 2017 NPSL Playoffs began on Saturday July 15th and everyone could feel the intensity the moment the match began between Orange County FC and visitors Riverside Coras.

Orange County FC were in control during the first half but at times were frustrated by the physical play of Riverside.

It came as no surprise that Alessandro Canale – NPSL Player of the Week – was surrounded by red shirts every time he got a sniff of the ball.

Midway through the first half, Canale had a shot on goal from outside the penalty area that was saved by Riverside keeper Alonso Lara.

The breakthrough finally came late in the 40th minute when a cross from Justice Duerksen was headed by Connor Gordon and saved by Lara but the rebound was fired into the net by Tristan Weber to give OCFC a 1-0 lead.

OCFC's backline was solid and got a boost with the addition of Patrick Ianni, a former MLS player who made a name for himself playing for the Seattle Sounders.

Nine minutes into the second half, OCFC were awarded a penalty kick after a handball. It was the golden opportunity for OCFC to extend the lead and it came as no surprise that the hottest player in the NPSL stepped up to take the kick from the spot.

But unfortunately for OCFC, Alessandro Canale saw his shot saved brilliantly by Lara.

Riverside picked up momentum off the save from Lara and increased the pressure on OCFC but the backline continued their excellent play and teamwork.

The missed penalty easily could have thrown OCFC off their game but Paul Caligiuri’s men have stayed resilient the entire season and they didn’t stray away from their game plan.

OCFC definitely got a boost with number one keeper Brandon Gomez returning from injury and he made a crucial save in the 70th minute when he denied forward Ruben Valencia.

As minutes ticked away, a chess match ensued as both teams continued making substitutions. OCFC knew they needed to maintain possession and look for a clinching goal while Riverside were prepared to throw everyone forward.

Canale wanted to make amends for his missed penalty but had a shot saved at point blank range by Lara late in the match and Lara wouldn’t stop there as he also denied a point-blank shot from second half substitute Armando Flores on the rebound.

The double-save from Lara kept Riverside alive and fans from both teams would be on the edge of their seats as time ticked away.

Riverside did what they could to create more chances but in the end Orange County FC held on for the hard-fought victory with excellent teamwork and tough defense.

“This is a team win, everybody worked hard for ninety minutes,” said captain Michael Bryant. “We are looking forward to the next round.”

Although not all players show up on the stat sheet, OCFC Head Coach Paul Caligiuri was quick to credit winger Justice Duerksen.

“Throughout the entire match Justice was incredible in how he attacked down the right side,” said Caligiuri. “He didn’t allow their left back or left midfielder to get into the flow and do the overlaps that Riverside typically do.”

The win for Orange County FC demonstrated the perfect example of team effort and the night had the perfect twist as seventeen-year-old midfielder Tristan Weber scored the only goal in an intense playoff match.

“I was very excited for this game,” said Weber.

“We kept it together the whole game. We kept playing hard and fighting for each other.”

OCFC have been playing hard and fighting for each other all season and next they get the chance to defeat unbeaten FC Arizona on July 22nd in the NPSL Western Semi-finals.

It is time for a showdown in the desert.