The business end of the USL regular season is well and truly on for the Southern California teams, as Orange County SC and LA Galaxy II host must-win games for their flickering playoff hopes on Saturday.
Orange County SC, currently four points back of the final playoff spot and moving up one place in the standings midweek after drawing 0-0 with Phoenix Rising FC, have a much better shot of qualifying than Galaxy II, but that’s not to say their own chances are great at the moment, as USL pegs them at a tick above 16 percent for their chance of qualifying for the postseason. With a win, those odds will surely move well up, and a loss probably nearly snuffs out their chances.
On Saturday, the test won’t be easy, as OC welcome Swope Park Rangers to Orange County Great Park for the first time this season. Earlier in the campaign, the teams tied 1-1 in Kansas City. SPR remains one of the contenders in the West, as they sit comfortably in fourth place and could move up the standings still with a strong finish to the regular season. The result is that Orange County need to dig deep to get three points in a game that will be challenging.
While OC’s attack continues to sputter, and there were a couple of extremely lucky bounces against Phoenix, the defense looked solid on Wednesday and expect on-loan FC Dallas rookie Walker Hume to start again for Orange County. While his loan is likely to be short-term and he may only have a couple more games with the team, his debut was promising and hopefully can be a platform for the rest of the team to stay tight in the back and finally get some scoring up top. Against SPR’s fairly stable roster, it’s going to be a tall task but it really is crunch time for Orange County to get a win, one way or another.
The same can be said for LA Galaxy II, who have a challenging opponent of their own on Saturday at home, in San Antonio FC. LA’s flickering playoff hopes took a hit on Wednesday as they lost 2-1 to Reno 1868 FC at the StubHub Center complex, with Reno’s Darwin Espinal hitting the game-winning goal to sink Galaxy II’s promising performance. The result leaves Los Dos nine points behind the final playoff spot with seven games to go — not impossible but getting close to it.
In come San Antonio FC, not nearly as resurgent as they were to start the season, but perhaps settling in to be one of the frontrunners instead of the prohibitive favorite will pan out for them in the playoffs. Still, LA have been playing much better on the whole lately, and while it’s likely too little too late for their own playoff hopes, they could finish the season strong and catch a few opponents by surprise in the homestretch, something they hope to do against SAFC on Saturday night.