After celebrating two consecutive sudden-death victories at home in Irvine, Orange County Soccer Club traveled to the East Coast to face off against the Tampa Bay Rowdies in the 2021 USL Championship Final on Saturday, Nov. 28, at Al Lang Stadium in St. Petersburg, Florida.
OCSC would emerge victorious, claiming a 3-1 victory, and the first USL title in the OCSC’s 11-year history.
Despite trailing in possession time early on, OCSC’s Patrick Rakovsky saved a penalty kick from Tampa Bay forward Sebastian Guenzatti, clearing it from play. The save would ultimately become a huge shift in momentum for Orange County.
Within the last 20 minutes of the first half, Orange County took advantage of the absence of Evan Louro, Tampa Bay’s goalkeeper, who was recently named USL Goalkeeper of the Year, and scored multiple times – 25’ and 38’ Ronaldo Damus, and 45’ Mikko Kuningas.
By half time, Orange County had a dominating 3-0 lead.
In the second half, OCSC’s defense was tight, but Rakovsky did allow one goal about 10 minutes into the half.
After the game, Rakovsky seemed unphased by the goal scored against OCSC, and focused more on the saved penalty kick from the first half. Rakovsky said he knew it was a pivotal moment, but said it may have been luck over skill.
“It was pure luck. I looked forward, then to the right side and then he hit it at the perfect height for me, not too high, not too low,” Rakovsky said. “I think for sure it was a key moment in the game.”
OSCS Head Coach Richard Chaplow agreed with his goalkeeper, adding that OCSC is fortunate to have Rakovsky’s skill in front of the net.
“You always need a little luck and certainly we created it,” Chaplow said. “Our back line, they were animals out there tonight and we expect that from them. He’s been a huge figure for us in the streak we are in,” Chaplow said. “He’s kept many clean sheets and does it surprise me when he makes these saves? Absolutely not. We see them every day and that’s the quality keeper he is. I just wish we didn’t have to see as many [saves] tonight.”
The win in the USL 2021 championship match was the ninth consecutive win for Orange County Soccer Club and sixth playoff appearance in eight years.
Speaking to Irvine Weekly prior to the USL Finals Match, Oliver Wyss, OCSC president and general manager, said he sees the club’s success off the field translating on the field more frequently.
“You have to build a club history and a club culture that young players, when they start playing AYSO soccer or club soccer – boys and girls – want to be part of our first team and build that real pathway where they are proud of it,” he said. “Of course we want to compete for championships, and have a team that not only produces top young players but also competes at the highest level in the game.”
With two goals scored in the 2021 USL Finals, OCSC’s Ronald Damus was named Most Valuable Player. While this is his first MVP award, Damus won a championship with North Texas SC in 2019. With the help of an interpreter, Damus explained that he is proud to be a two-time champion in Orange County.
“I feel good because the dream was to win a championship with Orange County, but I feel much better now because I won the MVP,” he said. “The way I see it in life is day by day. I was a champion in Texas, but when I came here the goal was the same and now I’m a champion in Orange County.”