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Ventura County FC kicks off U.S. Open Cup with victory over Irvine Zeta II

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CARSON — There were several teenagers on the field for Ventura County FC in Thursday’s opening round of the U.S. Open Cup. The first question was how would the predominantly young group handle the opening round of a tournament.

The end result should have been more comfortable, but Coach Matt Taylor and the team, formerly known as Galaxy II, will take the 2-1 victory over Irvine Zeta II FC and advance to the second round, which will be played April 2-3. The pairings for the next round will be drawn Friday.

Thursday night’s match was played at the Dignity Health Sports Park Track and Field Stadium.

“I hope they take away positives,” Taylor said. “Created a lot of chances to score goals, didn’t give up much. … I think aside from the (first-half) PK, from inside the 18, I don’t think they had a shot. So, we managed the transition moments and managed to create a lot (of opportunities).”

Irvine Zeta II, the second team of Irvine Zeta from the NISA (National Independent Soccer Association) opened the scoring in the eighth minute when Daniel Baumgartner converted a penalty kick.

The lead didn’t last long. In the 11th minute, Tucker Lepley’s corner kick was headed toward the goal by an Irvine Zeta defender and was then hit by another before crossing the line to make it 1-1.

Then in the first minute of first-half stoppage time, Sean Karani made it 2-1 for VCFC and that’s where the score remained.

“In the first half, I think we had seven really good chances to score, probably 10 in the second half,” Taylor said. “I think they’ll walk away disappointed that they didn’t score more, but in the end, it’s about winning this game and moving on to the next round and the next round is a different challenge because this is the first time we’ve been asked to carry the game with this group.

“We played college teams but they came right us, so we were able to break them down in different ways. This team sat with 10 guys, 30 yards from the goal and said try to break us down. It was a good challenge for us and now it’s a matter of finishing the plays off.”

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Seven teenagers took the field for VCFC: five were 17 years old (Gabriel Arnold, Riley Dalgado, Harbor Miller, Ruben Ramos Jr. and Nicolas Scheletto). Carlos Diaz and Sergio Villalpando are 18.

The group looked to a pair of four-year college players in Lepley and Karani to help lead the attack. Lepley was the Galaxy’s third-round pick in the MLS SuperDraft in January.

“I’m really excited about Sean, I think he has a great tool-set, he’s come a long way already in the last couple of months,” Taylor said. “I think he’s got something that if he’s playing in an MLS game in the near future, I wouldn’t be surprised. He also has a lot he still needs to work on before an MLS coach is going to say I trust this guy to close out a game or get us a goal. … He’s on a great trajectory.

“Tucker is great. He’s always around it and he’s creative, clean, great engine and it’s a lot of positives for Tucker. You have Isaiah (Parente) and Tucker in the midfield with Gaby (Gabriel Arnold), he knows he’s going to feel secure and safe when you’ve got those two always giving you angles and you can play off of and once you get it, you can get it back. It only makes him better. It’s a good balance, young surrounded by experience.”

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