It was a weekend of differing fortunes for the Southern California USL teams in the first round of the 2016 USL Cup Playoffs, but the results likely did not go the way most expected.
First, the Orange County Blues won their first ever playoff game on Saturday, taking Sacramento Republic to the brink at Bonney Field with 120 minutes of scoreless soccer before cleaning up in the penalty shootout, winning that 5-4 to advance to the conference semifinals.
It was a full team effort, with Josh Cohen making the crucial save in the shootout and the defense holding firm throughout the 120 minutes. And when it came time for the shootout, OC players — including three substitutes — made no mistake, converting all of their PKs to put full pressure on the hosts, who could not keep up.
The result is also notable because the Blues were the lowest seed in the Western Conference, taking on the first-place team from the season. USL may not be the NBA, but there were still few who were giving Orange County much of a chance to advance in this game.
While history has already been made, the Blues have a chance to extend their playoff run, with their next game coming up Sunday against Swope Park Rangers in Kansas City.
Speaking of which, it was SPR who sent LA Galaxy II packing in the playoffs, with the brand-new MLS2 side beating the oldest MLS2 side 3-0 on Friday in Kansas City. The first year LA did not win at least one playoff game, the game remained scoreless deep into the second half, but Kris Tyrpak scored an angled header in the final 15 minutes for Swope Park, before the floodgates opened and Mark Anthony Gonzalez added two insurance goals in second-half stoppage time.
With this being a 4 vs. 5 seed matchup on the road, a Galaxy II win was far from assured, but their track record made it somewhat surprising. Of course, as an MLS2 team the ultimate goal is to help the first team, and top performers like Raul Mendiola (who started for LA Galaxy on Saturday against FC Dallas) and Jack McBean (loaned out to English League One side Coventry City in the summer) used Galaxy II as a stepping stone for other opportunities. In that way, doing that while reaching the playoffs for the third consecutive season has to be seen as a success.
So LA’s season is done, but Orange County still have at least one game ahead of them. Will they continue their march on the postseason? We’ll have more coverage of the game as it approaches.