Against one of the hottest teams in the league, Orange County fought back late to earn a point.
The game was frequently a start-stop affair, with neither team able to establish much of a rhythm early on. New Mexico United took full advantage of the early chaos, opening up 2-0 lead off of a pair of defensive errors before the break.
A dangerous New Mexico cross found Santi Moar unmarked and he converted, putting the ball into the top left corner. Just short of 20 minutes later, an errant backpass from Kevin Alston was intercepted by Kevaughn Frater, who dribbled up to the goal line before blasting the ball into the back of the net.
OC was unable to get a sustained attack going, with most of the attacking danger coming from set pieces, including a pair of Koji Hashimoto corners that bounced around and nearly beat the New Mexico defense before being cleared away.
Going into the break, New Mexico looked primed to upset the title contenders, but Orange County’s “never say die” spirit changed the narrative of the second half.
Forwards Giovani Ramos-Godoy and Darwin Jones combined to give the team hope. Just before the hour mark, Ramos-Godoy knocked down a cross, sending the ball to the far post where Jones was able to push the ball over the line. From then on, Orange County took control of the match.
Aaron Cervantes had an excellent game, looking comfortable and capable leading his back line. Early in the second half, the United States U-17 international made multiple big saves to keep the game at 2-1. His performance was inspiring and impressive, and the night additionally marked his professional debut just two days after his 17th birthday. Cervantes was determined after the match, saying “I was pleased how we came out the second half and fought back, but I’m still not satisfied with the tie.” Looking forward to the coming weeks, he added: “I’m going to fight to be a starter.”
Liam Trotter made his OC debut, and with it came Orange County’s longest sustained attack. He provided a large physical presence in the midfield and proved a cool head as Orange County pressed New Mexico deep into their half. He also drew the crucial foul that led to the equalizer, and assisted Leonardo on the ensuing play. Despite the assist, Trotter waved off any thoughts of personal praise, instead focusing on the team’s comeback: “I wasn’t too concerned with my personal performance, I was just coming on and trying to help the team get back into the game. In the second half we upped it and showed what we can do.”
Leonardo’s debut was certainly one to remember. The former MLS player looked dangerous at both ends of the pitch, pressuring the New Mexico offense into mistakes before getting forward on set-pieces. He caused trouble in the opposing box throughout the game, but crucially scored the late equalizer to earn the club a point. After the match, he said of the game: “It was hard work, and we fought to earn one point. But it’s hard work every single day, and I have to give 100%, and tonight I did that.”
14’: Santi Moar (Manny Padilla)
33’: Kevaughn Frater
59’: Darwin Jones (Giovani Ramos-Godoy)
90+2’: Leonardo (Liam Trotter)
Santi Moar scored his fourth goal of the season, with the New Mexico attacker now second in the Golden Boot standings.
Orange County’s stoppage time equalizer marked the second time this season the team has come from two goals down to earn a point.