The USL regular season is at the point where games are taking on added importance in light of the playoff race, and Orange County SC have a big one at home at Orange County Great Park on Friday night, as they host OKC Energy FC in a playoff six-pointer in the Western Conference, while LA Galaxy II head up to Vancouver on Sunday for a game against Whitecaps FC 2.
We’re getting down to must-win territory for Orange County, who sit just outside the playoff places in the West with 11 games to play. Obviously, there’s still roughly a third of the season to go, but it’s the point where it gets harder to make up ground on opponents above you, and OKC are just one point ahead of OC in the standings, and sitting in the final playoff spot ahead of the SoCal side. It truly is a six-pointer.
OKC have shown an ability to be consistently strong in recent months after sputtering out of the gate, but at the same time they are the kind of team that can be beaten, and must be if Orange County are to reach the playoffs. The last time these teams met this season, in Oklahoma City, an early DOGSO red card from Oscar Sorto put Orange County behind the eight-ball, and OKC ended up grabbing the goal they needed to win. Those games happen, of course, and when they do teams have to look to hang on as best as possible. That game also extended Energy FC’s advantage in the all-time series, so they are clearly not a team to be trifled with.
All that said, Orange County finally got a full week off between games after a brutal multi-week stretch of many games on short rest. They have looked gassed quite a bit in recent games, naturally, compounded by the suspensions to a couple players and long-term injuries to key players like Duke Lacroix, Carlos Alvarez and most recently, Victor Pineda. This game will be a good opportunity to see if a few extra days off will give the available players a little more life in their legs, and give them the edge needed to get a needed result.
The other Southern California team in action this weekend, LA Galaxy II, will head up to Vancouver for a Sunday afternoon meeting against Whitecaps FC 2. The two sides met in the season opener in Carson, with LA coming away winners, and while it would be an overstatement to say it’s been all downhill from there for Los Dos, that opening win did not hint at the unprecedented difficulties coming for the MLS2 side this year.
Both LA and Vancouver are near the bottom of the Western Conference, neither side with much, if any, hope of making a late rally to get into the playoff chase this season, and it will be interesting to see if Mike Munoz uses a more experienced lineup, which he’s done increasingly since Sigi Schmid took over as the Galaxy’s first-team coach, or if the academy players will get the nod here. The context is twofold: A game against another team near the bottom of the conference is a “house money” kind of game, so if Munoz wants to give the teenagers another taste of pro soccer, this is a great opportunity, and it’s a busy week for the Galaxy’s MLS team, as several of the players who divide their time between Los Dos and the Galaxy played midweek in Columbus in MLS league action. As a result, don’t be surprised if the youngsters are back in full force for Galaxy II.
Orange County SC vs. OKC Energy FC is scheduled to kick off at 7:30 pm PT on Friday at Orange County Great Park. Tickets for the game are on sale at OCSC’s website, or you can watch the stream on USL’s matchcenter.
Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2 vs. LA Galaxy II will kick off at 3 pm PT on Sunday in British Columbia. You can watch the game on USL’s Matchcenter.