Drawing Positive Conclusions: Orange County Happy with Effort in Opening Tie
Orange County Soccer Club took to the field for their season-opener with six new faces in the starting lineup. Orange County could have been excused if the performance Friday night against El Paso Locomotive FC looked disjointed and choppy. Instead, the team performed as if it had been together for several matches, and though Orange County was ultimately denied a goal, it had much to feel good about after a 0-0 tie before 3,188 at Championship Soccer Stadium.
It was the third year in a row that Orange County opened the season with a tie and one point in the Western Conference standings. But Friday night was the first of the three in which the team recorded a clean sheet, and that definitely helped take the edge off their close calls at their end of the pitch.
"The big thing for me tonight was that we created the chances," Orange County head coach Braeden Cloutier said. "We got in front of the goal. We hit the target. They made some saves. That was a good team, and that's a good point. It will take a little bit of time, but I'm really proud of the team. We kept a clean sheet. There's a lot of positives to take from this."
Orange County had a bevy of scoring chances all night against El Paso goalkeeper Logan Ketterer, but could not get the finish they needed to break the scoreless tie.
Newcomers Thomas Enevoldsen, returning to Orange County after scoring 20 goals for the team in 2018, and Seth Casiple each had two shots on goal, with Casiple nearly potting the game-winner in the 82nd minute, only to be denied by a brilliant diving stop by Ketterer.
"I knew I had a little to do and I didn't execute it," said Casiple, a midfielder who joined Orange County in December after playing for Reno the last few seasons. "We had a couple of good chances. It won't let me sleep tonight. But it speaks to the quality of management that brought in guys that were able to mesh so quickly. We understand the system and the way we want to play. We left it all out on the field tonight. Pure effort. I'm pretty happy. I wish we'd scored and gotten the three points, but a tie is OK. I'm happy."
Orange County was without usual starters Darwin Jones, who sat out with an injury, and Harry Forrester, who served a one-game suspension after drawing a red card in OCSC's quarterfinal playoff loss last October to Real Monarchs SLC. That loss provided Orange County with plenty of motivation to begin the 2020 season on a strong note. A year ago, Orange County treaded water for much of the season before catching fire late to secure the No. 5 seed in the postseason. The goal at the outset of 2020 was to get the squad off to a much quicker start.
The team began its preparations for the regular season beginning in late January, the earliest the team had begun training camp in coach Braeden Cloutier's three seasons at the helm. The early start paid off as Orange County was able to assemble its full roster with two weeks left in training camp, overcoming late signings and visa headaches that are the norm for offseasons. The distractions safely navigated, the team was ready to roll right at the start.
It was newcomer Sean Okoli, the 2016 USL MVP, who put an early charge into the crowd with his first shot attempt as a member of Orange County, sailing a strong attempt from the left side over the crossbar from outside the box in the ninth minute.
The shot, like a lightning bolt, seemed to jolt Orange County to life. In the game's second 10 minutes, it was Orange County that carried the day, with Okoli sailing another blast well high and wide in the 15th minute. Orange County had two more solid scoring chances in the 33rd minute and added a handful more in the second half, but the goal simply would not come.
"To be honest, I thought it was a really good soccer game," Cloutier said. "I thought [after the first 15 minutes] we had control. If we put one of those chances away, I think it opens up the floodgates. But they're a very good side. It's a really good step for us in our first game."
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