Photo courtesy Liza Rosales / Orange County SC
IRVINE, Calif. – Sola Abolaji scored an 89th-minute equalizer as Orange County SC played to a 1-1 draw with Phoenix Rising FC and welcomed a sellout crowd of 4,963 to the official opening of Champions Soccer Stadium on Friday night. Wuilito Fernandes went close to giving OCSC the lead in the 11th minute as his header from a near-post corner from the left went just wide, and three minutes later Jerry van Ewijk forced a good save by Phoenix goalkeeper Carl Woszczynski to tip wide of the right post. Rising FC took the lead in the 18th minute, however, as Chris Cortez capitalized on a goalkeeping error by Charlie Lyon and put home the first goal in the new stadium’s history. Orange County pressed for an equalizer before the break, but gained a one-man advantage in the 43rd minute when A.J. Gray was sent off for a hard challenge on Juan Pablo Ocegueda to reduce Rising FC to 10 men. OCSC’s first good chance to take advantage came in the 59th minute as Van Ewijk momentarily got in behind the defense, but his curling effort was cleared off the line by Phoenix’s Peter Ramage, and Phoenix’s defense did just enough to clear James Baxendale’s low cross moments later as the hosts threatened again. Orange County finally earned an equalizer with a minute to go, however, as Van Ewijk’s cross found Abolaji by the left post for a headed finish. OCSC then pushed in stoppage time for a winner, with Jeannot Esua’s chance blocked to safety, but Rising FC held on to earn a point as honors ended even between the clubs for a second time this season.
18’ – PHX – Chris Cortez
89’ – OC – Sola Abolaji (Jerry van Ewijk)
Three Things That Matter:
1. Chris Cortez scored 20 goals across three regular-seasons in Orange County before heading to Phoenix prior to last season, which made it almost fitting that he score the first goal in Orange County’s permanent home on Friday night. Cortez was a stalwart figure for Orange County, helping the side reach the USL Cup Playoffs twice, including finishing top of the Western Conference standings in the 2015 season, and while his goal wasn’t necessarily the prettiest, it’ll certainly be one the 29-year-old will treasure.
2. Holding a man-advantage for the second half after A.J. Gray’s red card just before halftime, Orange County went full throttle to get at least an equalizer. As strongly as the hosts pushed, however, the Rising FC defense put in an outstanding rearguard action to try and emerge from the contest with the victory. But as Jerry van Ewijk looked the most dangerous OCSC player on the night, run a close second by Wuilito Fernandes, it was the Dutch midfielder that laid on the equalizer for second-half substitute Sola Abolaji, who wrote his name into the stadium’s record book with a great header in the 89th minute that finally broke Phoenix’s resistance.
3. Regardless of Friday night’s result, the official opening night of Champions Soccer Park was a tremendous success for Orange County, with a sellout crowd getting the chance to see the latest soccer-specific stadium in the U.S. landscape. After the ups and downs the club has seen in its first six seasons, the beginning of the club’s new era produced entertainment, but more than that a place the Orange County soccer community can call its own. Wins will need to come, for sure, but there’s still time for that to happen with two more games in the team’s home stand still to come as it pursues a second consecutive playoff berth.
USLSoccer.com Man of the Match
Jerry van Ewijk, Orange County SC – Van Ewijk was a threat throughout the contest, and provided a perfect assist for Sola Abolaji to notch a late equalizer.
Orange County SC vs. OKC Energy FC – August 25, 10:30 p.m. ET, Champions Soccer Stadium
Phoenix Rising FC vs. Sacramento Republic FC – August 26, 11 p.m. ET, Rio Tinto Stadium