Image: Liza Rosales, Orange County SC
San Antonio FC defeated Orange County SC 1-0 on Wednesday night at Champions Soccer Stadium, clinching their spot in the 2017 United Soccer League playoffs.
With the USL playoff picture coming into focus, both teams were looking for a significant win. While SAFC clinched their first ever playoff berth, Orange County could’ve climbed above the line into 8th place.
“It’s awesome that I got the chance to play in tonight’s game and that we clinched our first playoff berth,” said SAFC midfielder Connor Presley, who got his first professional start Wednesday. “Now we just have to keep moving forward, finish the season strong and do well in the playoffs.”
The stakes showed early on with Orange County pushing forward and testing the famed SAFC defense. SAFC managed to keep the hosts at bay though, holding them to just one shot on goal in the first 45 minutes, and began to get forward themselves toward the end of the first half.
SAFC midfielder Kris Tyrpak turned and found space on the right in the 31st minute to present SAFC with their first dangerous chance. Tyrpak’s cross into the box was redirected by Owayne Gordon and found its way to fellow forward Cesar Elizondo, who couldn’t connect with the ball to turn it in.
The exchange happened in reverse four minutes later as Elizondo dribbled up the center of the pitch to the top of the box where he dished the ball to Gordon. Orange County goalkeeper Charlie Lyon repelled the Jamaican’s first shot before the second was blazed over the bar.
Like Orange County had in the first half, SAFC began the second on the front foot – and they managed to make their mark on the scoreboard in the 55th minute. Defender Ben Newnam sent in a free kick from the left which went untouched through the 18-yard box and into the net past Lyons. Newnam’s playoff-clinching goal was his first of the season and for SAFC.
Orange County wasn’t going down without a fight though, ironically through SAFC’s first ever signing from 2016. Midfielder Carlos Alvarez cut inside from the left and tried to equalize with curled shots in the 65th and 70th minutes. SAFC’s first ever player wasn’t able to deny them their first playoff spot though as the first shot went wide and SAFC goalkeeper Diego Restrepo tipped the second over.
The hosts continued to push for an equalizer, coming closest through a ball across the face of goal by forward Irvin Parra in the 84th minute, but SAFC managed to hold onto perhaps their most significant result in nearly two years of existence.
“We’re pleased to be part of SAFC history by earning a playoff berth,” said Head Coach Darren Powell. “We have a lot of season left to play and we want to continue getting better.”
SAFC will travel back to San Antonio before quickly flying to Kansas City to face Swope Park Rangers on Sunday. SAFC scored the only goal between the sides in Kansas City on May 26 before the sides played to a scoreless draw in San Antonio roughly a week later.
SAFC Starting XI (4-4-2): Diego Restrepo; Ben Newnam, Cyprian Hedrick, Sebastien Ibeagha(c), Greg Cochrane; Kris Tyrpak, Maxi Rodriguez (Stephen McCarthy 84’), Ryan Roushandel, Owayne Gordon; Cesar Elizondo, Connor Presley (Ever Guzman 73’)
Substitutes not used: Johnston, Pecka, O’Ojong, Forbes, Seth
SAFC Discipline: Cesar Elizondo (yellow card, 61st minute – sixth of the season), Kris Tyrpak (yellow card, 68th minute – sixth of the season), Stephen McCarthy (yellow card, 85th minute – eighth of the season)