Orange County SC's players celebrate after claiming victory against Indy Eleven in a penalty shootout at the 2023 USL Academy League Playoffs on Friday. | Photo courtesy Emily Sullivan / United Soccer League
TAMPA, Fla. – As Orange County SC and Indy Eleven prepared to settle their Quarterfinal at the 2023 USL Academy League Playoffs from the penalty spot on Friday afternoon, there was a sense of calm about OCSC goalkeeper Juan Santana.
And rightly so. After all, the 18-year-old shot-stopper had been in bigger spots this year. Take for example his USL Championship debut, in which he recorded a shutout against Sacramento Republic FC in front of a sellout crowd of more than 20,000 fans at Hughes Stadium.
With saves in the second and fourth rounds of the shootout, Santana’s stops were capped by Benjamin Barjolo’s clinching finish in the fifth round to give OCSC a 4-3 win from the spot after a dramatic 1-1 draw after extra time.
“Coming in, I was very, very confident in my PKs and my ability to save them,” said Santana. “And then when I saved the first one, that gave me a boost of confidence to save another one. Then coming into the second one, I just felt like at that point, the win was already in our favor. And I was very, very happy that we ended the game with the win.”
“I had a good feeling, honestly,” added OCSC Head Coach Didier Crettenand. “We know Juan, we know what he can do. He is a great ‘keeper, has been for the club for the last two years, he worked hard and he deserved to win. All the team deserved it, you know, but credit to him with his saves and on the penalty shootout.”
Orange County overcame being reduced to 10 players late in regulation when Taj Eagleston was sent off for a hard tackle and was on the verge of being eliminated in the second period of extra time when Indy took the lead on a goal by David Davila from just outside the six-yard area. OCSC grabbed a lifeline with three minutes to go, however, as a foul off a corner kick allowed Tarek Hamideh to level the game, and from there Santana stepped up to send his side through.
“This team is unbelievable,” said Crettenand. “We had some bad moments during the season, which is how far the team has come, but now what we’ve done lately, we’ve showed what a good team we can be, and that we can compete until the end. Credit to the team, credit to the players who did a fantastic job today.”
AC CONNECTICUT 1, NEW MEXICO UNITED 0: AC Connecticut scored a second-half goal to keep their run in the tournament alive as Chance Campbell scored the only goal against New Mexico.
Entering as the No. 6 seed, Connecticut added to its first win at the Academy League Playoffs on Thursday on Campbell’s finish in the 57th minute. New Mexico had a pair of opportunities to level the game late in regulation but was unable to convert to send the game into extra time.
SAN ANTONIO FC 2, MIAMI FC 0: First-half goals by Dane Agustin and Adrian Valencia sent San Antonio into the semifinals in a high-paced game against Miami FC.
San Antonio took the lead in the 15th minute when Agustin seized on a close-range opportunity off a corner kick and sent a finish home inside the right post. Three minutes later Valencia stepped up and converted from the penalty spot after an SAFC player was brought down in the box, with the shot down the middle of the net just eluding Miami’s goalkeeper’s trailing leg, and from there SAFC’s pressing in midfield and solid defensive work closed out the result.
CHARLOTTE INDEPENDENCE 2, TAMPA BAY UNITED 1: The Charlotte Independence produced a dramatic comeback as Isaac Scheer scored the winner in second-half stoppage time to eliminate Tampa Bay United from its title defense.
In a hard-fought contest, the game exploded into life in the final five minutes as Tampa Bay took the lead in the 66th minute through Endri Mustali’s third goal in two games off an assist from Daniel Friere. Three minutes later, however, as Braden Gritz found the net for a second consecutive game. Then in stoppage time Scheer’s free kick from the left flank eluded everyone in the penalty area and found the right corner of the net, sending the Independence through.