For the second consecutive year, Republic FC saw its season come to a disappointing end in the first round of the USL playoffs on Saturday night at Bonney Field.
The eighth-seeded Orange County Blues FC defeated top-seeded Republic FC 5-4 on penalty kicks after playing to a 0-0 draw through 90 minutes of regulation and 30 minutes of overtime.
Blues FC goalkeeper Joshua Cohen blocked JJ Koval’s PK attempt to send the Blues into the Western Conference semifinals at the Swope Park Rangers next Sunday.
“I’ve been in the game long enough and that’s football,” said Republic FC coach Paul Buckle. “I’m very proud of what we’ve done this season. The players have done remarkable. To keep raising the bar is difficult but we’ve done it. Finishing number one in the West and then getting beat by number eight in the playoffs, it’s tough but it’s the playoffs.”
It was a taut, defensive slugfest in front of an announced crowd of 10,926 – a rare non-sellout – between two teams that know each other well. This was the fifth meeting this season between the two and neither side could break through with a goal in the 120 minutes of field play.
Cohen’s diving stop to his right on Koval’s shot toward the left corner of the net came after Republic FC’s Daniel Trickett-Smith and Cameron Iwasa traded goals with OC’s Roy Meeus and Richard Chaplow.
Republic FC’s Octavio Guzman and Carlton Cole followed with successful penalties but Dusan Stevanovic, Orr Barouch and Didier Crettenand all placed their kicks past Republic FC goalkeeper Evan Newton.
“When it goes to penalties, it’s one of them where players have to hold their nerve and you’ve seen world class players miss penalties,” Buckle said. “There was one penalty missed. I feel sorry for JJ because he’s played most of the season with a hernia. But it’s the way it is.”
Last year Republic FC, the 2014 USL champions, fell to the Los Angeles Galaxy II 1-0, a match in which Sacramento outshot its opponent 15-3.
“This is cup football, it’s gone all the way to wire, it’s exciting for the fans, and it’s one penalty missed,” Buckle said. “Our players will grow from this. We have a lot of young players. We’re trying to build for better things. It’s another successful season for us. We don’t get to pick up the championship cup, but I’ve got to put things into perspective.”
Both teams had their chances to score before it had to be settled by penalty kicks.
Speedy Trevin Caesar got a breakaway in the 51st minute but Newton came out and made a kick save. Newton had another kick save of a Caesar shot in the 59th minute.
The OC Blues also had two dangerous chances a couple of minutes apart in the first half.
Newton had to make a diving save on a ball that careened off Jeremy Hall’s chest after he blocked a Blues shot in front of the goal. Then defender Chris Christian made a sliding block in front of the goal of Mats Bjurman’s blast from the top of the box. Akwafei Ajeakwa’s follow-up shot hit the crossbar.
Cohen made a diving save of Matt LaGrassa’s upper corner blast in the 33rd minute; then Iwasa missed wide on a cross from Elliott Hord two minutes later.
Republic FC went 2-1-1 against the Blues FC during the regular season, winning the last two meetings 1-0 in Irvine and 2-1 at Bonney Field.
Republic FC will finish the 2016 season with a friendly Wednesday night against Chivas.