Courtesy: Orange County Blues FC
2016 USL Preview: Orange County Blues FC
Release: 03/11/2016
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Friday, March 11, 2016

Under the leadership of Oliver Wyss, Orange County Blues FC made some great strides to earn first place in the Western Conference this past season. The Blues’ efforts were put to a halt, however, in the USL Playoffs as they fell to eventual league runners-up the LA Galaxy II. The next step is getting back to that spot again and making a championship run, and they added some championship-level pieces to make that a possibility in 2016.

Head Coach: Oliver Wyss
Stadium: Anteater Stadium
2015 results: 13-7-8; 1st in Western Conference
2015 postseason: 2-0 loss vs. LA Galaxy II in West Semifinals

Goalkeeper: The Blues had one of the top defenses in the Western Conference last year, and they found a way to strengthen themselves even further. In December, Orange County signed 2015 USL Goalkeeper of the Year Brandon Miller, fresh off a championship crown with the Rochester Rhinos. Miller, who set single-season USL records in shutouts (13) and lowest goals-against average (0.54), will be backed up by second-year Blues goalkeeper Josh Cohen. Cohen earned one start last year in his first professional season with Orange County, joining the club late in the year following his time with the PDL’s Burlingame Dragons.

Defense: Several pieces from last season’s back line have returning, with the face of this group being Jamaican Brenton Griffiths. The 2015 USL All-League Second Team center back enters his third campaign with the Blues, and last year was a breakout performance with 26 starts, three goals and one assist in 2,234 regular-season minutes. Fellow returnee Jack McCracken solidified his spot at right back as last season progressed, and Ryan Felix joined the club midseason last year to eventually log nine starts and 14 appearances.

Midfield: The Blues maintained a nice foundation of last season’s midfield for 2016. Swiss midfielder Didier Crettenand is back as one of the team’s key leaders, posting seven goals and three assists in his first year with the Blues. Christopher “Chino” Santana and Nikola Ilich were Orange County’s first two offseason signings this past winter. Santana is coming off a team-high five assists during the 2015 season. One player to keep an eye on is newcomer Christian Silva, formerly of the 2015 champion Rochester Rhinos. Silva’s season was shortened because of a torn ACL injury, limiting him to less than two months on the field. Now that he is healthy, Silva hopes to play a big role for his new side.

Forward: The team’s most intriguing offensive addition heading into the year is Trevin Caesar, a Trinidad & Tobago international who scored nine goals for the Austin Aztex last season. His pace will be a welcome addition as Wyss continues to define his front line crop. Tyler Feeley returns, having played a reserve role throughout 2015.

Strengths: Now that Didier Crettenand was signed earlier this week, the Blues’ midfield appears to be one of the strongest returning facets, with some useful depth. He, Chino Santana, Nikola Ilich and Pavle Popara make up a formidable group on a team has a reputation of pulling off a number of closely contested matches.

Weaknesses: The front line still is a work in progress in terms of Oliver Wyss having his full group in place. Trevin Caesar is the only signed player thus far with significant USL experience in the attack, and the club will need to find to secure some additional options to coincide with a good returning midfield. Scoring was hard to come by last year, with the Blues’ 38 regular-season goals being the lowest total of any team during the 2015 USL Playoffs.

Key number: 11 – Newcomer Brandon Miller allowed only 11 goals in 1,845 regular-season minutes last year – or an average of one goal for every 167 minutes and 44 seconds.

Noteworthy matchups: The I-405 Derby between the Blues and LA Galaxy II features four matches this season. The Blues defeated Los Dos for the first time in the regular season, but LA won in the conference semifinals in the postseason. The series starts up on April 8 at StubHub Center.

Coach’s view: “Naturally, now the task is being set high, but we’re going to come into the season and we want to win the Western Conference, want to go to the playoffs and at the end be the champions of the league. We feel very comfortable about that, with the players we’re recruiting, with the returning players, and as every day, it’s hard work. We’re willing to do that.” – Oliver Wyss

Current roster (updated: March 11, 2016):
Goalkeepers: Josh Cohen, Brandon Miller
Defenders: Ryan Felix, Brenton Griffiths, Jack McCracken
Midfielders: Didier Crettenand, Grady Howe, Nikola Ilich, Pavle Popara, Chino Santana, Christian Silva
Forwards: Trevin Caesar, Tyler Feeley

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