The Orange County Blues made the 2016 USL Cup playoffs in the most dramatic of fashions, but the real business of the season is here on Saturday, as they take on Sacramento Republic in the first round of the playoffs.
OC qualified for the postseason by what must be described as the most narrowest of margins, as they got the necessary help of a San Antonio FC loss and then outscored other rival Portland Timbers 2 with a late flurry of goals in the Blues’ 4-0 win over Colorado Springs Switchbacks to overtake Portland on goal difference and climb into the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
It was a thrilling finish to an inconsistent season for the Blues, but now that they’ve reached the playoffs, they have the daunting task of trying to knock out the West’s top seed, Sacramento Republic, up in Bonney Field.
To their credit, the Blues have beaten Republic in Sacramento before, including in the teams’ first meeting this year. But Sacramento won the last two games, and have experience winning USL playoff games (they won the league title in 2014). The Blues are looking to make history by winning their first-ever playoff game.
For midfielder Ivan Mirkovic, who won the USL championship in 2014 with Sac Republic, he admitted to having a little more drive in this game because of his history in Sacramento.
“I’m excited, first of all, to be in the playoffs and have this chance, and secondly, playing in the place where I spent two and a half years, and that gives me extra motivation,” said Mirkovic on Friday.
“The season has been up and down, but last couple games we showed we can compete with the best in the Western Conference,” he added.
Forward Trevin Caesar, the two-goal hero of the playoff-clinching win last week, succinctly identified Orange County’s keys to the game at Bonney Field.
“Defending as a team and scoring our first two chances, and we win the game, definitely,” he said.
Mirkovic, who also highlighted converting chances as a key to the game as well as an attitude of aggression for the whole match, indicated Orange County is in the right mentality to make a go of the game.
“We’re going into the game confidently and ready to give it everything that we have,” he said.
Sacramento Republic vs. Orange County Blues will take place Saturday at Bonney Field in Sacramento. The game is scheduled to kick off at 7:30 pm PT, and you can watch it on USL’s YouTube channel or USLsoccer.com.