FIRST TIME: Orange County SC blanks Rowdies to win USL Championship title
ST. PETERSBURG, Florida – Ronaldo Damus scored two first-half goals after a key penalty save by goalkeeper Patrick Rakovsky as Orange County SC won their first USL Championship title with a 3-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Rowdies in of the 2021 USL Championship final on Sunday evening in front of a packed house of 7,521 fans at Al Lang Stadium.
The victory was the second consecutive victory for a road team in the USL Championship Final following the Real Monarchs SLC’s 2019 victory over Louisville City FC. Rakovsky recorded the first penalty shot in a title match to help turn the momentum in Orange County’s favor, securing the victory for one of the Championship’s inaugural clubs on his maiden trip to the final of the championship after a playoff in which he never lagged in all four of his contests.
The Rowdies controlled most of the early possession and put Orange County on their heels with game changes seeking to place Leo Fernandes and Sebastian Dalgaard in space on either flank. The OCSC defense withstood the pressure with confidence, as center-back Rob Kiernan cut the game off when the Rowdies tried to play with Steevan Dos Santos down center while making clearances as Tampa Bay was unable to. find a revealing final pass.
The hosts’ first penetrating pass also brought the 19’s first big opportunity.e minute as Fernandes shifted play from the left flank as he interacted with Sebastian Guenzatti, then delivered a precise pass down the center of the penalty area to Yann Ekra, who was knocked down from behind to give Tampa Bay a penalty . Guenzatti stepped up, but his left corner shot was deflected from the net by Rakovsky and behind for a corner kick, continuing the German shooter’s solid form into the playoffs.
After being granted a reprieve, Orange County soon took advantage of their first big chance of the game, offered to the visitors by their hosts. After receiving a pass to the right from goalie Raiko Arozarena, Tampa Bay defenseman Jordan Scarlett played an erroneous pass sideways through the penalty area which Damus grabbed and tucked into the open net in the 25e minute.
Tampa Bay almost hit back immediately as on the ensuing kick-off, a long upfield ball was sent to Guenzatti as he stepped into the left side of the penalty area, only for the OCSC defender Brent Richards has issued one final decisive challenge to clear. Two minutes later, the Rowdies’ forward duo bonded as Dos Santos led an angled cross into the penalty area for Guenzatti, but his low shot was muffled by Rakovsky.
Seven minutes before halftime, however, Damus struck again. After Eric Calvillo moved to the right flank, his low delivery in the penalty spot gave the Haitian international enough time to control and shoot at home on the half volley in the left corner to give a cushion in Orange County. The last minute of the first half brought more to the visitors as after securing a free kick to the left of the center, Mikko Kuningas delivered a brilliant left-footed strike around the wall and just inside the left post for make a three-way goal. game at break.
The Rowdies had an early chance to cut the deficit seven minutes into the second half when Lewis Hilton led a counterattack down the center and found Dos Santos in space to his right just inside the rim upper right of the penalty area, only for Rakovsky to go down well to parry and then cover the shot of the Cape Verdean striker in the left corner. The flurry started another positive spell for the hosts, but a wide header from Dos Santos right post to a corner after a Fernandes shot was deflected wide did not provide the breakthrough they needed.
Fernandes won the Tampa Bay breakthrough in the 57e minute, however, as after a right cross deflected a defender, Dos Santos tried to hit the ball on the fly as it came to the ground, fanned, only for the ball to prepare for the midfielder. offensive ground hits home first. -time. The goal gave the Rowdies a boost of energy, but despite additional pressure, they failed to find the end of the deliveries in the penalty area and upset Rakovsky.
Orange County, meanwhile, weren’t content to just sit down and with 18 minutes to go, the visitors nearly caught another as an attack on the right swept through the top of the box. repair to find Seth Casiple, who was forced into a rush shot as Arozarena quickly got out of line and skied his effort into the stands.
Pressure from the Rowdies persisted as they looked for a chance to level late and into the 84e minute, a chance arrived for the hero of the Eastern Conference final, Lucky Mkosana, only for his pressurized head to be recovered by Rakovsky. Two minutes later, the Zimbabwean had a clearer chance, but the German shooter managed to repel a powerful header from eight yards. Conner Antley also had a chance that was widely deflected as Tampa Bay continued to recycle possession in the Orange County half of the field, while with one minute remaining Mkosana was offside as he redirected a shot after a corner from Yann Ekra from the top of the penalty spot. Region.
Damus also had the chance to complete his hat trick in the second half stoppage, having beaten his marker on a long ball up the field, only for Arozarena to come up with a pair of clutch stops to keep it out of the way. After one last chance for the hosts to find the outside of the side net, however, the final whistle came as the visitors ended a remarkable season with the USL Championship crown.
Most Valuable Player of USL Championship Final
Ronaldo Damus, Orange County SC – Damus scored two goals in the first half and consistently challenged the Rowdies’ back line at the top of the offensive line to finish with four shots in total.