Photo courtesy Liza Rosalez / Orange County SC
IRVINE, Calif. – Didier Drogba’s stoppage-time free kick earned Phoenix Rising FC a 1-1 draw with Orange County SC on Saturday night at Orange County Great Park as both sides scored late in a dramatic conclusion. Phoenix opened the game on the front foot, but Orange County’s defense did well to deny their early chances with some crucial blocks in front of goalkeeper Charlie Lyon. Rising FC hit the crossbar in the 23rd minute as a cross by Drogba found Omar Bravo for a diving header, but the former Mexican international’s effort clipped the woodwork and went over. Lyon had to make a good save to deny Drogba, whose long free kick from the left was pegged for the top-right corner, while Rising FC almost created another chance as a deep cross was knocked away with Drogba lurking just before the break. Bravo again went close in the opening minute of the second half, only to have his chance blocked away, but then Orange County came into the game more and both Wuilito Fernandes and Gustavo Villalobos had long-range chances saved by Phoenix goalkeeper Josh Cohen. The hosts took the lead with six minutes to go as a free kick just outside the area was bent home low by Roy Meeus. Drogba had a chance to try and equalize in stoppage time, but with almost the final kick of the game provided a memorable equalizer from a free kick to earn his side a point.
84’ – OC – Roy Meeus
90+’ – PHX – Didier Drogba
Three Things That Matter:
1. Orange County entered a critical stage of its season in July, but after last week’s late equalizer against the Portland Timbers 2, the hosts were bitten by the same bug as Didier Drogba’s late goal denied them what would have been a big three points. Orange County has games in hand on the teams above it in the Western Conference, and appeared on course to make a positive move up the standings on Roy Meeus’ tally with six minutes to go, but conceding a late free kick proved fatal as Drogba gave Charlie Lyon little chance with his fine effort to level the match.
2. Phoenix had numerous chances to take the lead in the first half as both Didier Drogba and Omar Bravo couldn’t quite find the finish that would have given their side the upper hand. After another late chance had seen Drogba’s turning volley go high of the crossbar, it seemed like it would be a frustrating night for Rising FC, but given one final chance the former Ivory Coast international came through when it counted. Phoenix will need to earn more victories as it continues to push for the playoffs, but with a club-best five-game undefeated streak now under its belt, it will enter next week’s clash with Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC in a much better place.
3. Roy Meeus has been a solid contributor from set pieces since he arrived in Orange County last season, and his decisive finish on Saturday night gave Josh Cohen little chance as it found a way around the defensive wall and into the bottom-right corner of the net. The fullback’s goal, his third of the season, looked as though it might have earned his side all three points before Drogba’s late finish, but if Orange County is to make the playoffs for a second consecutive season it will hope for more of the same from Meeus throughout the second half of the season.
USLSoccer.com Man of the Match
Didier Drogba, Phoenix Rising FC – Given a final chance, Drogba came through to earn Rising FC a point on the road when it looked as though the hosts had held on for victory.
Orange County SC at Seattle Sounders FC 2 – July 16, 5 p.m. ET, Starfire Stadium
Phoenix Rising FC vs. Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC – July 15, 11 p.m. ET, Phoenix Rising Soccer Complex