2019 US Open Cup Round 3: Paul Caligiuri’s Orange County FC “shock the world” in 5-goal-flush upset of Las Vegas Lights

Posted by | May 30, 2019
Orange County FC celebrate in the locker room after the club's 5-3 upset win over Las Vegas Lights FC in the Third Round of the 2019 US Open Cup. Photo: Orange County FC

Orange County FC celebrate in the locker room after the club’s 5-3 upset win over Las Vegas Lights FC in the Third Round of the 2019 US Open Cup. Photo: Orange County FC

With the game tied 3-3 heading into the 89th minute and after seeing his team give up a two-goal lead while holding a man advantage, Blake Frischknecht put himself in the front of the net as Cody Shelton’s cross came from the right side. The ball bounced as it approached him while one of his teammates fell to the ground directly in front of him. The Las Vegas native focused and lifted his right leg just enough to redirect the ball past a diving Angel Alvarez and earned his team their second lead of the night.

After one final insurance tap-in by Oscar Flores in stoppage time, the full-time whistle blew sending National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) side Orange County FC to the Fourth Round of the 2019 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup over the Las Vegas Lights of the USL Championship, 5-3.

The cherry on top is that Frischknecht had tried out for the Lights not long after the organization began fielding a team. Instead of sticking around to play under head coach Eric Wynalda he chose to return to NCAA Division I play at Utah Valley and pursue opportunities in the NPSL and USL League Two.

Including OCFC’s Second Round win over Orange County SC (no relation) two weeks ago, this is the first time any NPSL team has ever beaten two professional sides in a single Open Cup tournament and also the first time any team from the league has taken home the prize money for advancing the farthest from the Open Division. Wednesday night’s win, combined with the loss by North Carolina FC’s win over the Florida Soccer Soldiers, OCFC earned $25,000.

These two goals came after a two-goal second half comeback from the Lights who were looking to advance into the Fourth Round for the first time in its two-year history. The team, which was also eliminated by an Open Division entrant last season when it fell to USL League Two side FC Golden State Force, scored the late game equalizer when Junior Sandoval stepped up and converted a free kick attempt. Preys dove to stop the kick as it rocketed from the right side but the bullet smashed into the far post with five minutes left before stoppage time.

Players from Orange County FC (left) and Las Vegas Lights battle for the ball in their Third Round match in the 2019 US Open Cup. Photo: Lucas Peltier | IG: lucaskpeltier

Players from Orange County FC (left) and Las Vegas Lights battle for the ball in their Third Round match in the 2019 US Open Cup. Photo: Lucas Peltier | IG: lucaskpeltier

The game got started in the right direction for Orange County when they got on the board in the sixth minute. Shelton silenced a majority of the 2,378 in attendance when he converted Peter Gregory’s header into a goal for his second of the tournament. His header from the center of the penalty area found the top right corner before Alvarez could react.

For a team that played a very defensive strategy against its Orange County counterpart in the previous round, the team pushed up and played hard against Vegas. Multiple chances early on and pace moving across both ends of the field saw both teams stretching their legs and passes. One pass by the Light’s Mobi Fehr was critical in the 16th minute as his pass back towards Alvarez caught the keeper out of place before trickling in for an own goal, giving OCFC the two score lead.

Shelton believes their opponents didn’t take the game or them seriously which allowed his teammates to come out at full strength and take advantage.

“Las Vegas didn’t want to work,” Shelton said after the match. “[We] grabbed our hard hats and lunch pails and went to work and did what we knew we would.”

Paul Caligiuri Orange County FC vs. Eric Wynalda Las Vegas Lights Graphic by Dallas Kreil | IG: @dak_design

Graphic by Dallas Kreil | IG: @dak_design

Coming into the match, OCFC head coach and former U.S. Men’s National team star Paul Caligiuri made it clear in an open declaration that his team was not the favorite in this match. But the man who helped the United States qualify for the World Cup for the first time in 40 years back in 1994 told announcers Bobby Warshaw and David Gass his team had something of their own to do.

“We’re gonna shock the world and we’re going to win the hearts of America when we knock off Eric Wynalda and the Las Vegas Lights,” he said prior to Wednesday night’s match.

The Lights worked enough to earn themselves a penalty kick not long after the error when a throw pass to Santiago Echavarría into the OCFC box brought a challenge from Rayan Holland that resulted in a foul. Echavarría converted in the 23rd and brought his team’s deficit to one but the group couldn’t keep the pressure constant.

When they did bring a chance the young netminder David Preys, who made two saves in the penalty shootout in Round 2 that got his team to this game, came up with a stop in the first half.

Robert de Niro once said in the movie “Casino” that “In Vegas, everybody’s gotta watch everybody else.” That statement rang true in the 35th minute when a long goal kick by Preys found multiple OCFC heads before landing at the feet of Dakota Collins on the left side of the field all alone with a near clear lane to the LVL zone. He charged toward the net as the defense neared before smacking a straight shot off his left foot between Alvarez and the left goalpost.

After the match, Collins told TheCup.us that if his team kept on the offense throughout the game, the group knew what the end result would be.

Players from Orange County FC (left) and Las Vegas Lights battle for the ball in their Third Round match in the 2019 US Open Cup. Photo: Lucas Peltier | IG: lucaskpeltier

Players from Orange County FC (left) and Las Vegas Lights battle for the ball in their Third Round match in the 2019 US Open Cup. Photo: Lucas Peltier | IG: lucaskpeltier

“We just remained disciplined kept pushing to create chances and at the end of the day we always believed we would win,” Collins said. “We ended up scoring five goals and creating even more chances so we truly felt we also deserved the result.”

The OCFC strategy was best described as making the most of its chances even if they weren’t common. The NPSL team didn’t have the ball as much as Vegas did but realistically the amount of threatening possessions between the two wasn’t leaning towards the USL Championship side. With their team down by multiple goals, the Lights took a page from the Orange playbook and got on the board quickly when Edwin Rivas Jr. ripped a shot from beyond the 18 following a series of passes.

Echavarría sent the final set-up under pressure to the 20-year old Colombian national who tucked it into the lower right corner to once again put his team within one.

Multiple chances ensued for each side over the next 45. Echavarría headed a tying chances wide not long after his assist as the home team began to keep the ball in the opposite end for more extended periods of time.

The backline of Joshua Davis, John Holland, and Tekodah Lobsiger along with midfielder Aaron Lombardi all began to default back into the same style of play that worked against OCSC. The only difference being that their opponent this week lacked the same amount of clear chances on net.

Frischknecht nearly had a chance to seal it early as well in the 61st minute as he had a near break into the left side of the penalty area. Under pressure, his shot to the near post, not unlike the Rivasone prior, was blocked by a diving Alvarez to force an unsuccessful corner kick.

Orange County now moves on to face Zlatan Ibrahimović and the LA Galaxy, the same team Caligiuri played for in the early years of Major League Soccer, on the road as the sole remaining non-professional unit in the competition. For many players while the outcome was what they expected the chance is something they’ve only dreamed about.

“To earn the chance to play against an MLS team in this tournament is huge,” Collins said. “Every game becomes more special for our club and we are going to keep showing our work retain every game we play.”

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