The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Still Looking for a Win

Referee Gustavo Solorio makes a call at Championship Soccer Stadium | Photo courtesy of Orange County SC

Referee Gustavo Solorio makes a call at Championship Soccer Stadium | Photo courtesy of Orange County SC

A week after Orange County SC blew a 2 goal lead by giving up 5 unanswered goals, and coach Braeden Cloutier stated “It’s going to get sorted out real quick”, Orange County had to fight from behind against a tough New Mexico United team to earn 1 point. One of the biggest questions Orange County fans have in the early season is what is preventing the team from playing well for a full 90 minutes. Through the first 3 matches, they have only played well for part of each match, which should be unacceptable for a team with aspirations of lifting the USL Cup at the end of the season.

As for the match against New Mexico, let’s take a look back at the good, the bad, and the ugly parts of the match.

The Good - A whole lot of changes

In the fallout of the self-destruction against Tulsa, coach Cloutier hinted that there would be plenty of changes to the game plan, including the lineup. I even mentioned that I expected plenty of changes to the starting 11 on the most recent episode of the Orange & Black SoccerCast. When the lineup was finally released for the match, even I was surprised by the number of changes, and as the match went on, even the substitutes included 2 players making their debut with the team.

The starting lineup included 2 players making their debut with the team, Leonardo and Aaron Cervantes, who was also making his professional debut. Also included in the lineup was Owusu-Ansah Kontor, who was making his first appearance of the season. All three players had a positive impact in the match.

Leonardo was solid defensively, as you would expect from an 8 year MLS vet, and scored the equalizing goal in extra time. Cervantes, who had just celebrated his 17th birthday a few days earlier, had a solid debut, allowing just 2 goals, and making a few key saves that kept OC in the match. Neither of the 2 goals were the fault of the young keeper, as there wasn’t much that could be done to stop them. The first goal was wonderfully placed by Santi Moar, and the second was courtesy of a poor pass by OC captain Kevin Alston. Kontor was solid on the left side of the defense, allowing Alston to play in his more natural right back position.

Along with the changes in the starting 11, 2 substitutes made solid debuts for the team. Liam Trotter was brought in in the 53rd minute to replace Koji Hashimoto. At the time, the ESPN+ announcers questioned the move, but as the game went on, Trotter’s presence was a positive for the team, and his assist in the equalizing goal was first class. Sebastien Des Pres was the other substitute that made his debut in the match, and although his presence had less of an impact on the match, it was great to see coach Cloutier giving the youngster a chance to show what he can do on the pitch.

The Bad - Alston’s poor pass back to Cervantes

Orange County SC’s Kevin Alston in pain after getting taken down by New Mexico United player | Photo courtesy of Orange County SC

Orange County SC’s Kevin Alston in pain after getting taken down by New Mexico United player | Photo courtesy of Orange County SC

Let me start off by stating that Kevin Alston is an important player for coach Cloutier’s team. There is no questioning the talent and leadership that he brings to each and every match. He is also usually one of the more reliable players on Orange County night in and night out. But that pass he made in the 33rd minute to goal keeper Aaron Cervantes that lead to a Kevaughn Frater goal that put New Mexico up 2-0 was very bad. It didn’t help Alston that Cervantes was making his debut, and thus had limited chemistry with the OC right back.

An argument can be made that Cervantes was just as at fault as Alston in the play, since he hesitated just a bit, which allowed Frater the opportunity to get to the ball before Cervantes. In the end, it is Alston’s fault due to the fact that he is the veteran and captain of the team, and thus should not have even put his young keeper in that situation. Luckily for Alston and his teammates, the goal conceded in that play didn’t seem to get to Cervantes, who played solidly the remainder of the match. Unfortunately, it was a goal that should never have been given up.

The Ugly - The ref, his inconsistent calls, and his insistence to play the ball exactly where the fouls took place!

Anyone that listens to the podcast knows that I tend to be a little critical of the refs from time to time (okay, so it’s more like every week), but in this match, it seemed much worse than normal. There were plenty of inconsistent calls, but that tends to be the norm in the USL Championship. Even more frustrating was that the ref seemed to be very against playing the advantage. There were multiple occasions in the match that an advantage could have, and should have, been played. It impacted both teams, so I guess it was fair, but as a fan, it’s frustrating to see a ref call a play back when the team that was fouled has a definite advantage.

Another thing that became more and more frustrating as the game went on was how insistent the ref was in playing the ball where the foul occurred. Typically in professional soccer, refs will allow the team to resume play in the general vicinity of the infraction, or even further back on the pitch, as long as the restart doesn’t add an additional advantage. From the start of this match, on every foul, the ref insisted that the players place the ball exactly where that foul occurred, even if it was just a few feet from where they were trying to restart play. It became very frustrating and annoying for anyone watching, and was very unnecessary. It took away from the flow of the match, and also took away some advantages that a quick restart would have provided for both teams.