IRVINE, Calif. - The two clubs that battled for the USL Western Conference regular season crown will now face off in the Western Conference final of the USL Cup Playoffs. On Saturday, Orange County SC will host Phoenix Rising FC at Championship Soccer Stadium in Irvine with a place in the USL Cup final on the line. Neither club has ever appeared in the championship match.
Orange County SC, the top seed out West, played a grueling, defensive battle against Reno 1868 FC in the last round, advancing with a 1-0 victory. Midfielder Aodhan Quinn provided the only score of the match. In the first round, OC dominated Saint Louis FC 4-0, including a hat-trick from forward Michael Seaton. For the match against Rising FC, midfielder Richard Chaplow feels the Jamaican striker’s limited appearance against Reno was a big reason there weren’t more goals scored. “Obviously, missing Mike Seaton in the second half vs Reno affected us a bit. He was fantastic for us against St Louis,” Chaplow explained.
Phoenix brings their high-scoring attack to Southern California coming off two decisive postseason victories. Last week, Rising FC defeated Swope Park Rangers 4-2 in Arizona to eliminate the two-time reigning Western Conference champions. Before that, they handled Portland Timbers 2 by way of a 3-0 scoreline. Forwards Jason Johnson and Didier Drogba each scored a goal in both matches, with a goal apiece for winger Solomon Asante, midfielder Kevon Lambert, and forward Chris Cortez. When asked what his club needs to do to slow down Rising FC’s explosive attack, Orange County head coach Braeden Cloutier said, “We will need to be aware of Phoenix's threat from counter attacks with their pace on flanks.”
The regular season series between these clubs could not be any closer. In the season opener for each side, the match resulted in a 1-1 draw in Irvine. Solomon Asante opened the scoring in the first half for Phoenix and defender Alex Crognale equalized late. Rising would take the next match, courtesy of an early Chris Cortez goal. OCSC could not take advantage of an early red card issued to Phoenix’s Kody Wakasa. After low scoring affairs in their two previous meetings, the final matchup of the regular season tallied provided seven goals. Orange County won the match 4-3 with two goals from Michael Seaton and one from both Aodhan Quinn and forward Thomas Enevoldsen. Asante scored a hat trick for Phoenix.
The match will feature soccer legend Didier Drogba's final professional appearance in Southern California after announcing his retirement earlier this season.
Kickoff is set for 7 PM Pacific Time from Championship Soccer Stadium in Irvine. Tickets are still available at orangecountysoccer.com. Fans are encouraged to arrive early for the match. Gates will open one-half earlier at 5 PM PST.
Goalkeeper Andre Rawls has two clean sheets so far in the postseason.
Aodhan Quinn passed the ball 131 times over the two playoff matches. He created three chances, including one assist.
Michael Seaton’s hat trick against Saint Louis has him atop the goals list for the 2018 USL Cup playoffs.