Photo courtesy Sacramento Republic FC
SACRAMENTO, Calif. – No. 8-seed Orange County Blues FC recorded a 5-4 victory in a penalty shootout to eliminated No. 1 seed Sacramento Republic FC in the Western Conference Quarterfinals of the 2016 USL Cup Playoffs after the teams had played to a 0-0 draw in front of 10,962 fans at Bonney Field on Saturday night. Blues goalkeeper Josh Cohen saved from Sacramento’s J.J. Koval to open the third round, and subsequent conversions from Dusan Stevanovic, Orr Barouch and Didier Crettenand gave the Blues their first playoff victory in club history, and a clash with the No. 4 seed Swope Park Rangers in the Western Conference Semifinals. Orange County had a big double-chance go begging as a miscommunication between Republic FC goalkeeper Evan Newton and defender Chris Christian saw the ball drop to Mats Bjurman. The midfielder had his shot cleared off the line by the recovering Christian, and Akwafei Ajeakwa fired the rebound off the crossbar and out. Republic FC’s Matt LaGrassa had a shot from 20 yards tipped over by Blues goalkeeper Josh Cohen a few minutes later, while Cameron Iwasa’s header from a corner four minutes before the break was also denied by Andrae Campbell’s clearance to keep the game scoreless. Orange County was denied as Trevin Caesar broke in on goal behind Sacramento’s defense six minutes after the break, only for Newton to stand tall to save. Ajeakwa curled a shot just with 15 minutes to go for the Blues, while Sacramento’s Carlton Cole had a shot charged down five minutes later as the game remained scoreless at the end of 90 minutes. Sacramento almost stole a winner late in stoppage time as Iwasa’s low cross was cleared to safety by Blues defender Brenton Griffiths, but Cohen’s save and Crettenand’s make in the fifth round send the Blues through with victory over their in-state rival.
Three Things That Matter:
1. Coming off their dramatic victory to earn a place in the playoffs a week ago, the Blues showed throughout the 120 minutes of action that they certainly belonged in the postseason field. While Sacramento had the better of the possession, and controlled the tempo in the first half, the Blues took more control as the game went on, as their defense stood firm to limit the hosts’ clear looks on goal. Josh Cohen ended up as the hero thanks to his penalty save in the deciding shootout, but Orange County had plenty of others who can take a lot of credit for this performance, particularly center backs Maurice Pluntke and Brenton Griffiths.
2. Orange County Blues FC could have been left to rue its missed chances in either half, both of which could have seen the side notch the opening goal in pursuit of the upset on the road against its in-state rival. Akwafei Ajeakwa’s shot off the crossbar in the first half – the second time in as many visits to Bonney Field Ajeakwa had found the woodwork – and Trevin Caesar early in the second half on a breakaway both had golden opportunities to find the net, but thanks to their victory in the penalty shootout, the Blues live to fight another day.
3. For a second consecutive season Republic FC fell in the conference quarterfinals, as goalkeeper Evan Newton wasn’t able to replicate his penalty shootout heroics of a season ago for OKC Energy FC with his new club. Orange County’s victory was likely a deserved one, though, and gives the Western Conference picture into a far different look than maybe most were expecting before Friday night’s action kicked off. With the top three seeds all gone, it’s anyone’s guess who’ll be representing the West at the 2016 USL Cup.
USLSoccer.com Man of the Match:
Josh Cohen, Orange County Blues FC – Cohen made the decisive save in the penalty shootout to deny J.J. Koval, giving the Blues the edge that his teammates followed through on to advance.
Sacramento Republic FC – End of Season
Orange County Blues FC – Western Conference Semifinals at No. 4 Swope Park Rangers, Sunday, Oct. 9, 4 p.m. ET
SAC: 18-Daniel Trickett-Smith – Goal; 14-Cameron Iwasa – Goal; 24-J.J. Koval – Saved; 17-Octavio Guzman – Goal; 10-Carlton Cole – Goal;
OC: 37-Roy Meeus – Goal; 10-Richard Chaplow – Goal; 18-Dusan Stevanovic – Goal; 27-Orr Barouch – Goal; 21-Didier Crettenand – Goal
SAC: 12-Evan Newton; 20-James Kiffe, 8-Chris Christian, 3-Mike Da Fonte, 26-Elliott Hord; 14-Cameron Iwasa, 16-Matt LaGrassa (15-Carlos Rodriguez, 82’), 28-Jeremy Hall (17-Octavio Guzman,100’), 5-Danny Barrera (18-Daniel Trickett-Smith, 90+’); 29-Wilson Kneeshaw (24-J.J. Koval, 63’), 9-Harry Williams (10-Carlton Cole, 73’)
OC: 1-Josh Cohen; 12-Andrae Campbell (37-Roy Meeus, 100’), 6-Maurice Pluntke, 23-Brenton Griffiths, 13-Matt Sheldon; 19-Ivan Mirković, 21-Didier Crettenand, 10-Richard Chaplow, 16-Mats Bjurman (17-Veneri Valimaa, 100’); 14-Akwafei Ajeakwa (18-Dusan Stevanovic, 90’), 9-Trevin Caesar (27-Orr Barouch, 87’)
Venue: Bonney Field