OCFC stage furious comeback against SoCal SC

by Art Eftekhari

down 3-0 to socal sc in the second half, orange county fc refused to quit and scored three goals to earn an amazing 3-3 tie

Irvine, CA – Back for their first home game in nearly one month, Orange County FC were looking forward to giving their fans something to cheer about but quickly found themselves playing from behind.

It only took SoCal Sports Club three minutes to get on the board when Alex Zaragoza fired in a shot after center back Kevin Belmonte made a crucial mistake and was unable to clear a cross in the OCFC penalty area.

The goal was Zaragoza’s third of the season and leading 1-0 after three minutes was the perfect start for head coach Danial Musatti and SoCal SC.

The first half did not get any better for OCFC as right back Mustafaa was given a yellow card for a hard foul in the 24th minute.

Mustafaa would be subbed out eventually in the first half for Ty O’ Connor, one of two players making their debuts for OCFC.

Fourteen minutes later a routine back pass to OCFC keeper Brandon Gomez turned into disaster as SoCal striker Roonie Moreno stole possession and was fouled in the penalty area by Gomez.

Gomez was given a yellow card and the Colombian striker Moreno took the penalty himself and gave his side a 2-0 lead as Brandon Gomez guessed wrong.

OCFC’s leading scorer on the season Alessandro Canale was booked in the 42nd minute and was subbed off soon after along with midfielder Alexis Campos as they were replaced by Edward Morales and newcomer Connor Gordon.

SoCal were full of confidence going into the halftime locker room with a 2-0 lead while OCFC head coach Paul Caligiuri would have to make adjustments and rethink tactics during the short fifteen-minute break.

Defensive midfielder Chris Gardea was brought on to start the second half for Armando Flores which sent Michael Bryant into an offensive midfield role.

OCFC were looking to weather the storm and were given the golden opportunity two minutes after the restart to cut the lead in half when Connor Gordon was fouled in the penalty area by keeper Tyler Wilson after receiving a pass from striker Staforde Palmer.

Palmer took the kick from the penalty spot and was denied brilliantly by Wilson as he dove to his right to get a hand on the ball and corralled it after it bounced off the post.

The missed penalty was just another disaster for OCFC.

At that moment, it seemed as if nothing could go right and SoCal proved those thoughts correctly when Eric Gonzalez scored his third goal of the season when he tapped in a rebound that bounced off the post after a shot from Andy Contreras in the 51st minute.

Down 3-0 it was apparent that Orange County FC had a huge mountain to climb but they refused to quit and the I-5 Army in attendance continued to make noise. The drums could be heard throughout the stadium at Portola High School.

"It sounded like they had a new drum," said assistant coach Ernie Richau. "Our supporters were a big contribution to our comeback."

Minutes after the hour mark OCFC had a free kick from a far distance. The ball appeared to go out of bounds after a deflection off the SoCal defense but all of sudden there was a conversation between the main referee and his linesman.

After the brief exchange OCFC were awarded a penalty kick and Michael Bryant put his kick past Wilson to finally get OCFC on the board in the 65th minute.

Bryant wasted no time celebrating and rushed to get the ball back to center-field. Ironically, immediately after the goal Bryant was subbed off for midfielder Jonathan Romero. Bryant obviously wanted to remain on the field but he did his job in converting the spot kick.

SoCal head coach Musatti answered with a substitution of his own in what appeared to be a game of chess as he brought in Brazilian striker Edmilson.

Caligiuri’s moves on the field continued to pay off as Connor Gordon received a perfect long ball from Edward Morales and fired the ball past Wilson to cut SoCal’s lead to 3-2 in the 78th minute.

The stage was set for a suspenseful finish and the OCFC supporters were fired up on their feet.

Caligiuri was in no mood for a moral victory. Orange County FC had all the momentum and SoCal SC appeared to be running out of gas.

Immediately after Gordon’s goal, SoCal had the perfect chance to finish the game when Roonie Moreno was all alone in the penalty area but OCFC keeper Brandon Gomez made a brilliant save with his feet to keep his team alive.

OCFC kept up the pressure and even had a goal from Jose Montes disallowed due to offside but they kept pushing forward.

Time was running out and stoppage time was rapidly approaching. Left back Daniel Yo got the ball to Connor Gordon as OCFC kept up the pressure.

Gordon created some room in the penalty area, took a shot that went past Wilson, and the game was tied 3-3.

The comeback was complete as the OCFC coaches, players, and supporters erupted in delight. It was amazing and the vibration of the cheers could be felt in the press box. After Gordon’s game tying goal, OCFC wanted a fourth goal but the match ended in a 3-3 draw.

Prior to the match, owner Nader Dejbakhsh told his wife that OCFC had an ace on the bench. The ace he was referring to was Connor Gordon.

"Connor is a great player," said captain Erik Mueller. "He gave us a new dynamic with his speed and ferocity."

The midfielder from Concordia University scored two goals and earned a penalty kick for OCFC in his debut. In all honesty, Connor Gordon’s debut performance couldn’t have been written better in a script.

After the match, Gordon was asked what he would do for an encore.

"I am hoping for a win next game," said Gordon. "I want to catch up to the guys who lead the team in goals."

Coach Paul Caligiuri was proud of his players after the game but he was also proud of the support from the OCFC fans and of course, the I-5 Army.

"We never gave up after being down 3-0," said Caligiuri. "We showed a lot of character and heart and that is why I am proud to coach this team."