Photo courtesy of Sacramento Republic FC
SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Sacramento Republic FC’s Harry Williams slotted home an 85th-minute goal as the host side rallied from an early second-half deficit to earn a 2-1 victory against Orange County Blues FC on Saturday in front of a sellout crowd of 11,569 at Bonney Field. Matt LaGrassa tallied his first goal in the 48th minute, and the victory helped Republic FC become the first Western Conference team to clinch a berth in the 2016 USL Playoffs. The opportunity arose when Real Monarchs SLC was only able to earn a draw against Tulsa Roughnecks FC earlier in the night. Sacramento had to work hard to make the postseason clincher a reality as Orange County’s Didier Crettenand scored an impressive free kick in first-half stoppage time to give the Blues the 1-0 lead. With the win, Sacramento is atop the West with a 13-6-8 record and 47 points, moving to 7-3-4 at home. Republic FC extended its unbeaten streak to eight games (5-0-3). Orange County falls to 10-13-4 (34 points) overall and 4-8-2 on the road. This marked the fourth and final regular-season appearance between the two sides. After the Blues earned a 1-0 win on April 30 at Bonney Field, Sacramento drew 3-3 on July 10 at Anteater Stadium, followed by a 1-0 Sacramento victory on Aug. 24 at Anteater.
45’+ – OC – Didier Crettenand
48’ – SAC – Matt LaGrassa (Danny Barrera)
85’ – SAC – Harry Williams (Elliott Hord)
Three Things That Mattered:
1. Sacramento had some spells to produce something in the first 45 minutes but came up empty. Down a goal in the waning moments of the first half, Republic FC needed some type of spark to turn things around, and it didn’t take long as Matt LaGrassa tallied his first professional goal in the 48th minute. The buildup was exceptional, from James Kiffe’s chip pass down the left side to Danny Barrera’s precision cross from the left side of the box. Barrera notched his USL-leading ninth assist as LaGrassa slid in toward the right post and found the back of the net to tie the score at 1-1. It stayed that way all the way until five minutes remaining in regulation as Elliott Hord, in his second start with Republic FC, played a cross from the right to Harry Williams who slotted home the go-ahead score in the 85th minute.
2. Orange County’s confidence built during the opening half, and just before the halftime whistle, the Blues finally capitalized. The visiting side drew a handball outside the box from 23 yards out, and Didier Crettenand stepped up in the moment. His right-footed strike eluded Sacramento’s six-man wall, clipped the inside of the left post and crossed over the goal line for a 1-0 lead in first-half stoppage time. Republic FC goalkeeper Evan Newton was leaning the other direction, but with the placement of the strike, it likely would not have made a difference in stopping Crettenand’s shot from heading into the net. He now has a team-leading eight goals this season.
3. The Blues’ Akwafei Ajeakwa was unfortunate to not have anything to show for his efforts in the first half when he hit the frame on two occasions. In the 21st minute, Orange County went on the counterattack, and while the numbers didn’t look to be promising, the work rate of Crettenand and Ajeakwa made up for it. Crettenand played a beautiful lead pass to Ajeakwa on the right. Ajeakwa fired in search of the upper left corner, but his strike caromed off of the crossbar. Then in the 27th minute, off of an Andrae Campbell free kick, Ajeakwa got in a good position in the middle of the box for a header, which eluded Sacramento goalkeeper Evan Newton but hit the left post. The night was shortened for Ajeakwa as he was sent off in the 87th minute for a dangerous challenge.
USLSoccer.com Man of the Match:
Matt LaGrassa, Sacramento Republic FC - LaGrassa tallied his first professional goal to ignite Sacramento's rally and eventually clinch a postseason berth.
Sacramento Republic FC at LA Galaxy II – Sept. 10, 10:30 p.m. ET, StubHub Track & Field Stadium
Orange County Blues FC at Real Monarchs SLC – Sept. 9, 9 p.m. ET, Rio Tinto Stadium