Ronaldo Damus shoots Orange County to USL Championship title

It was looking good early on for the Tampa Bay Rowdies, who had home-field advantage in the 2021 USL Championship final and were awarded a 19th-minute penalty kick. But Orange County's German goalkeeper, Patrick Rakovsky,  saved the shot by Tampa Bay captain Sebastián Guenzatti, Ronaldo Damus scored in the 25th and 38th minutes, and Mikko Kuningas' free kick had the visitors up 3-0 at halftime.

In their semifinal against Louisville City, the Rowdies came back from a 2-0 deficit for a 3-2 overtime. But on Sunday evening they responded only once, with Leo Fernandes' 57th-minute strike. Orange County fended off waves of attack to hold on for a 3-1 win and its first USL Championship title. For Damus, the victory marked his second championship in two years.

The 22-year-old Haitian joined FC Dallas' U-19 academy team in 2018 and signed for its FC Dallas affiliate North Texas SC in 2019. He led USL League One in scoring that season with 16 goals and helped a North Texas SC team that included Ricardo Pepi, Bryan Reynolds and Tanner Tessmann lift the title. Damus moved to Orange County ahead of this season and scored 16 regular-season goals.

Damus debuted for Haiti's full national team in 2016, nine days ahead of his 17th birthday, in a 1-0 World Cup qualifying loss to Costa Rica. He's earned six more caps since, including three appearances at last summer's Gold Cup.

In Sunday's final, he intercepted a horrible pass by Jordan Scarlett in the penalty area and hit net with his first touch to make it 1-0. Damus' the second goal was assisted by Eric Calvillo, the 23-year-old Southern Californian who's playing on loan from the San Jose Earthquakes. (Calvillo, who played on the USA's 2015 U-17 World Cup team alongside Christian Pulisic, now represents El Salvador.)

The 24-year-old Finn Kuningas, whose excellent free kick stung the Rowdies shortly before halftime, arrived to OCSC this season from Finland's FC Lahti with Rakovsky.

Nov. 28 in St. Petersburg, Florida
Tampa Bay 1 Orange County SC 3. Goals: Fernandes 57; Damus 25, 38, Kuningas 45.
Tampa Bay -- Arozarena; Guillén, Lasso (Antley, 72), Scarlett (Harris, 45); Dalgaard, Fernandes (Mkosana, 61), Hilton, Wyke (Doherty, 72); Dos Santos (Adebayo-Smith, 78), Ekra, Guenzatti.
Orange County SC -- Rakovsky; Richards (Smith, 71), Alston, Orozco, Kiernan; Powers, Kuningas (Okoli, 86), McCabe (Enevoldsen, 70), Iloski (Casiple, 64); Calvillo, Damus. Referee: Rubiel Vazquez
Att.: 7,521

USL Championship Champions
2011 Orlando City
2012 Charleston Battery
2013 Orlando City
2014 Sacramento Republic
2015 Rochester Rhinos
2016 New York Red Bulls II
2017 Louisville City
2018 Louisville City
2019 Real Monarchs
2020 *
2021 Orange County
*The final between the Tampa Bay Rowdies and Phoenix Rising was canceled because of a Covid-19 outbreak among Rowdies' personnel.

1 comment about "Ronaldo Damus shoots Orange County to USL Championship title".
  1. Goal Goal, November 29, 2021 at 10:26 p.m.

    Ran into the game on ESPN last night by accident.  Don't know anything about either team.  Watched the game and it appeared the two homer announcers had Tampa Bay winning the game before it started and continued with their biased comments all through the game picking Tampa Bay to pull it out when they were behind 3-1 with 4 minutes left.  Poor play by play and embarrassing for ESPN.

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