By Pawl Espinoza Twitter: @pawlespinoza on August 30, 2016, 11:15am

It was a busy night at Lake Forest Sports Complex as OC Crew SC hosted Santa Ana Winds FC on familiar soil. I say familiar for a couple reasons: they share this same field for select home games, and they’ve been doing so for quite some time. In what’s considered a mild rivalry, both Santa Ana Winds FC and the home side from Irvine, CA were a few of the first teams to enter into the United Premier Soccer League from its 2011 inception. These two clubs are based in neighboring cities, adding a little territorial heat to the rivalry which, of course, makes these games competitive. And just to throw a little spice into the mix, both of these teams are in need of points, for one reason or another.

This match was somewhat of a typical Santa Ana game. Everything of importance happened in the first half. The contest began with the Winds down a man due to roster complications. OC Crew SC had a solid opportunity to dominate early, but they didn’t. Winds FC always enters into their games with strong energetic bursts and rapid movement on and off the ball. That’s what helped keep pace with the leveraged home side, but in this case, they hindered all offensive attempts with stifling defense to make up for their missing teammate. For the first quarter of the game, we basically saw high pressure from the OC Crew, and the kind of defense we have been hoping for all season with the Winds. They allowed less shots, and even on the shots they allowed, each one was contested. 

Then the goals started rolling in. In the 28th minute, forward Zaid Khalil scored the first goal of the game off of a cross from midfielder Carlos Andrade. Andrade led the defenders to the right side of the goal, freeing up Khalil just enough to receive a quick pass to strike into the upper left corner of the net. At this point, the Santa Ana club was at full strength with the lead and the entrance of their 11th man. The Winds favored the left side of the net yet again in the 34th minute. Ruben Menjivar was bringing the ball up the pitch when his field vision kicked in. Seeing the opportunity, he drove a deep ball from centerfield to Saul Sandoval who served as a good distraction for the defense; he quickly dished it past the defenders to Neilsen Ocampo for goal number two of the half.

Santa Ana had turned the advantage tables around, dominating possession the second their 11th man stepped on the field. At this point, things were getting ugly for the Crew. In the 38th minute, Zaid Khalil caught fire again, this time taking advantage of some sleepy goalkeeping. As Khalil was bringing the ball upfield, the keeper was playing too far from his post, leaving it available for a 30-foot rainbow chip-in from Khalil. It soared over the keeper and defenders, gently laying itself into the back of the net as a fun goal for Santa Ana Winds FC, but an embarrassing one for OC Crew SC. To top it off, Zaid took it to the same goalie again 10 minutes later to put the Winds up four to nothing. He was at a disadvantage being double-teamed by the Crew’s defense, yet managed to get close enough to bring the keeper out towards him. A little mix of quick feet and luck brought Irvine’s keeper to the floor in an attempt to dive on the ball, but Khalil juked it away from him just in time. All that remained were two defenders, Khalil with the ball, and an empty net. You guessed it! Hat trick for Zaid Khalil. End of the half.

Now at this point in the season, the Winds have become quite predictable. Initially, I was on their case about poor defense, and they’ve seemed to pick that up quite well, but now it comes to strength and conditioning. Even though they are beasts on the offensive side of the ball, they seem to run out of gas during the second half, most notably during the final 15 minutes of each game. In the 68th minute, they picked up their fifth and final goal from a cross by Ruben Menjivar, but conceded two relatively stoppable goals in the 79th and 85th minutes to end the game at five to two. It’s a minor problem (for now) that has occurred in the last few games this season. Cases in point: Last game versus Inland Empire FC saw a similar result with two late goals, and an eerily similar game versus Toros Neza USA saw some late goals going in. It seems like more focused strength and conditioning with the squad is needed, because other teams in the future won’t be so forgiving, especially with the Admiral Cup and Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup right around the corner.

Catch your favorite local club Santa Ana Winds FC this upcoming Saturday September 3, 2016 as they take on Avalanche FC in the battle for Southeast Divison’s third place. Game time and location TBD. Stay tuned!