The Orange County Blues are in Kansas City this weekend, not looking to check out the barbecue (ok, maybe they’ll have a taste, but that’s not why they are there) but to see if they can extend their USL Cup playoffs run this season, with a Western Conference semifinal meeting against Swope Park Rangers on Sunday afternoon.
The Blues are fresh off their shock upset of top-seeded Sacramento Republic last week, the club’s first-ever playoff win. Given their status as the lowest seed still left alive in the playoffs, the Blues enter the game against Swope Park Rangers, Sporting Kansas City’s USL team in their first season, as major underdogs, and Rangers dispatched the Blues’ rivals LA Galaxy II at home in their first playoff game 3-0.
Considering both teams have one playoff win in their respective histories, both taken last week, the Blues, despite being the older club, don’t have a whole lot of institutional memory to give them an edge. But with it being USL, that’s often the case year to year.
And certainly the biggest player news this week is on Orange County’s side, and it’s probably not good: Forward Trevin Caesar, USL Player of the Week two weeks ago, has been called up by Trinidad & Tobago for their Caribbean Cup qualifiers, and will therefore be unavailable for Sunday’s playoff game. Could the Blues still win without him? Sure, but losing your leading scorer, in a time when he’s been in good form, is unquestionably a blow.
And the Blues will have to contend with a striker corps for Swope Park that is fearsome indeed, with all-time leading scorer Dane Kelly, former Chivas USA striker Kris Tyrpak, and Canadian rookie Mark Anthony Gonzalez capable of scoring at any point. OC played an outstanding game defensively to notch the win last week, and they’ll absolutely have to be at their very best once again against SPR.
So will the Blues continue their Cinderella run in the 2016 playoffs, or will Swope Park Rangers prove to be too much for them to handle? We’ll find out on Sunday. The game is scheduled to kick off a 1 pm PT, and can be seen on USL’s YouTube channel and on their matchcenter on the USL website.