On Wednesday, May 15th, 2019 at 7:30 pm in Irvine, California, a new rivalry was born. Two soccer teams, one professional and one amateur, were set to meet for the first time, despite sharing the same home stadium. On this drizzly Wednesday night at the Great Park’s Championship Stadium, history was about to be made and 120 minutes plus penalties later, one team would shock the country.
The first “Battle of Orange County” turned out to be everything a casual spectator could’ve hoped for and nothing they ever could’ve predicted. Entering the match as overwhelming favorites, Orange County SC of the USL Championship, had every right to believe that they’d progress to the third round of the 106th edition of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, with little to no trouble. After all, they were a professional team in the second division of the U.S. Soccer hierarchy, whom despite experiencing a slow start in league play, had narrowly missed out on being crowned USL champions the season before. On the other hand, Orange County FC (confusing, I know) of the NPSL Southwest Conference, had also narrowly missed out on being crowned champions the last few years in their division, although they play at a semi-professional level that is often unofficially categorized as the fourth division of the U.S. Soccer hierarchy. Second division and fourth division may not seem like a huge difference, but one need only take a few factors into account, to gauge just how far apart each team really is. Essentially, Orange County SC players earn a livable weekly wage to play soccer each and every day, minus the one day during the weekend that they don’t have a game. In Southern California, that wage ranges anywhere from 50 to 75 grand a year. These players train five, sometimes six days a week and have access to top-quality nutritionists, personal trainers, facilities, coaching, and more. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Orange County FC players are guaranteed no pay (with a few minor exceptions), train only two days a week, work a wide range of jobs and careers to support themselves, and have no access to nutritionists, personal trainers, or anything else that a typical professional team would have access to. Simply put, Orange County SC play soccer for a living, while Orange County FC play soccer for the love of the game. Nevertheless, in a game with local bragging rights on the line in addition to the fact that you either win on the night or you’re knocked out of the tournament, both teams only had one thing on their mind and that was to win.
At kick off, the tension was palpable, as the professional Orange County team began the proceedings with a steady stranglehold on possession of the ball. The amateur side was more than happy to allow the professional team to retain possession, maintaining a secure team shape and patiently waiting for any mistake in order to spring a successful counter-attack. There was little sign of an opening for either team, until the 13th minute of the game, when tragedy struck for Slick Marketers’s own Josh Davis. Davis, who acts as the content specialist at Slick Marketers, could only watch in horror as a ball that was chipped into the box by an opposing player went off of his head at an awkward angle, rolling past the keeper and into his own net. Considering that there were around 400 people in attendance in addition to the many more tuning into the match on ESPN +, Davis understandably wanted nothing more in that moment than to dig a hole on the field and hide, but instead, a historic comeback was on the cards. Davis had no chance but to shake it off and get on with the game, because there was still a long way to go. In fact, just 14 minutes later, the amateur side equalized from a swift counter-attack, in order to leave the score level at 1-1 going into half-time.
After a passionate team talk and plenty of words of encouragement from his teammates, content specialist Josh Davis was ready to put the events of the first half firmly behind him. This resulted in a significant upturn in the level of his personal performance, as he successfully helped thwart attack after attack from the professional Orange County SC players, who were visibly frustrated by the fact that they had failed to extend or even maintain their lead over their amateur opponents in the first half. The pressure on the semi-professional Orange County FC defense was relentless throughout the entire second half, until Davis and the rest of his fellow defenders were finally beaten in the 87th minute of play, to give Orange County SC a 2-1 lead. With only three minutes left on the clock, it seemed that the amateur side would leave the field as losers, until they equalized yet again in the 90th and final minute of play. The stadium erupted as the ball thumped into the net and an extra time period of 30 minutes now loomed for both teams. Due to the superior fitness levels of the professional Orange County SC, the amateur Orange County FC players could’ve been forgiven at this point for simply running out of steam, but they dug their heels in and held out for penalty kicks, knowing that a historic victory was only five kicks away.
With extra time ending and penalty kicks now the only way to separate the professionals from the amateurs, all of the pressure was on USL Championship side Orange County SC, to finally finish the job and avoid a humiliating exit to their semi-professional rivals. This was the mental advantage that Orange County FC had as the underdogs, and this proved to be decisive as they proceeded to score all five of their penalty kicks, while Orange County SC only converted three. Orange County FC had done the impossible and beaten their professional rivals to become only the 5th amateur side in 106 years of the Open Cup, to defeat a professional team. The “Battle of Orange County” was won and the magical journey for Josh Davis and his team continues against USL Championship team Las Vegas Lights, in the third round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.