By CHARLIE CORR – firstname.lastname@example.org
Thursday, December 3, 2015
Orange County in many regards represented the league’s quiet assassin. The Blues didn’t have one key flashy goal scorer. They were rarely involved in high-octane blowouts – more than half of their games (17) were decided by one goal or less.
Yet through some strong midfield play, a defense that was relatively steady all season and just enough of a collective contribution in the offensive third, the Blues paved their way toward their first regular-season conference title in the tightly contested Western Conference.
It marked an impressive turnaround from a 2014 season that saw Orange County finish second-to-last in the standings. The Blues turned a massive corner, and the next step will be trying to piece together a deep postseason run for their 2016 campaign.
2015 USL Season in Review:
Record: 14-9-5, 47 points
Place: 1st in the Western Conference
Goals For: 38
Goals Against: 34
2015 regular-season leaders: Christofer Ramirez (8 goals), Christopher Santana (5 assists), Pepe Miranda (86 saves, 8 shutouts)
Greatest moment of 2015: Orange County had never won against local rivals the LA Galaxy II heading into its Sept. 5 match. In fact, the Blues had lost their first six games against Los Dos before holding for a 1-1 road draw on July 16. Entering the final month of the regular season and playing at home in Irvine, the Blues knew they had to step things up. Despite conceding an early penalty kick goal to LA’s Ariel Lassiter, Orange County’s Brenton Griffiths equalized with a 33rd-minute header on a set piece chance. It stayed 1-1 until the 90th minute, when second-half sub Christofer Ramirez slotted home the winner off a David Estrada cross from the right flank to dramatically earn a 2-1 victory and put to bed the seven-game winless streak against the Galaxy II.
Lowest moment of 2015: The Blues allowed more than two goals in only three games during the regular season. The toughest loss among that bunch was a lopsided 5-0 defeat to Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC on June 24. The host Switchbacks’ Aaron King recorded a first-half brace and things only got worse for the Orange County defense in the second half. The disconcerting aspect of the game from the Blues’ perspective was their invisibility in the offensive third. Orange County registered only two shots, neither of which made it on frame. That loss also marked the lowest point of the season for the Blues, who dropped their third consecutive game and were below .500 (5-6-1). The club turned its season around following the loss in Colorado Springs, winning nine of its next 14 matches.
What went right? Anchored by USL All-League Second Team defender Brenton Griffiths and goalkeeper Pepe Miranda, the Blues had one of the stingiest defenses in the USL. They allowed only 34 goals in regular-season play. If not for several lopsided losses in June and July, the Blues could have led the Western Conference in fewest goals conceded. The back line was pivotal during the final stretch of the season, allowing one goal or less in the final 11 regular-season games to post a 7-1-3 record heading into the postseason. They capped off the regular season with a scoreless draw against defending USL champion Sacramento Republic FC to earn the top seed in the Western Conference for the USL Playoffs.
What went wrong? If there has to be an Achilles’ heel, it was the lack of scoring punch. The Blues’ 38 goals were the lowest total among the 12 playoff teams this season. Orange County also tended to fall short offensively in the second halves of games while its opponents ultimately out-shot the Blues in the final 45 minutes. Fortunately for the Blues’ sake, they found a way to grab enough points in closely contested matches. Without question, though, Oliver Wyss will be hoping for someone to take the reins in the scoring department next season.
He said it: “I am tremendously proud of what the players the organization has achieved this season. We have come an incredibly long way in such a short space of time, but we are not stopping. We have now raised the expectation levels of the OC Blues.” – Oliver Wyss, Orange County Blues FC Head Coach