It’s a busy start to the weekend Friday evening in local USL terms, as both Southern California teams and the Arizona side are all in action, headlined by a stadium grand opening clash.
Orange County SC actually opened their new permanent stadium at Orange County Great Park on Tuesday, welcoming the Tulsa Roughnecks in for a 0-0 draw. Defense ruled for the hosts in that game, as they held firm against a frisky Tulsa attack, but their own attack was largely ineffective and scoring chances were few and far between. Either way, picking up a point brings OC to within a single point of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, giving them potential momentum if they are able to grab a few wins in the coming weeks.
That next chance comes on Friday, against Phoenix Rising FC, at the grand opening of the new stadium. The club will pull out all the stops, including fireworks postgame, and the game is one of ESPN’s Game of the Week broadcasts on ESPN3. The last time Phoenix (and let’s face it, main attraction Didier Drogba) came to town, Orange County had their best attendance to date and the game, while increasingly ill-tempered as it wore on, ended in dramatic fashion, with two late goals for a 1-1 draw.
Orange County and Phoenix are next to each other in the standings, with OC two points ahead of Rising FC ahead of the game. It may not be a full-on must-win game for both sides, but it’s not too far off, either. Both sides have room for error given their games in hand on the rest of the West, but dropped points will hurt their playoff credentials.
And if Orange County can win on Friday, they’ll leapfrog two teams and get back above the playoff line, while also going five points ahead of Phoenix. A Phoenix win, meanwhile, will muddy the waters around the playoff line, but they’ll be a point ahead of OC, and considering last season’s playoff qualification went down to goal difference, not simply points, every single point could be vital when the season is finally over.
It should be a good time off the field and around the brand-new stadium, but there is all to play for on the pitch in this game, too. Should be a good occasion.
Meanwhile, OC and Phoenix are not the only Friday game in USL, as one of the other ones is Colorado Springs Switchbacks hosting LA Galaxy II. LA is effectively eliminated from the playoffs already, if not mathematically, but it’s clear that the team has turned back to more experience to salvage something from the season and end it on a better note.
Galaxy II had a bye last week in USL play, so Mike Munoz had some time to work with his side and get ready for the final 11 games of the season. They’ll enter Friday’s game against Colorado Springs having dropped the first meeting between the teams, 2-1 at home in June, and the Switchbacks will be eager to grab another win to solidify their playoff standing, as they sit one spot and four points above the final playoff place at present. Throw in the altitude and this won’t be an easy test for Galaxy II. That said, they’re playing with house money at this point so a relaxed attitude coming out of the bye could be just what they need to play spoilers.
Orange County SC vs. Phoenix Rising FC kicks off at 7:30 pm PT at Orange County Great Park in Irvine. You can buy tickets for the match on OCSC’s website, or watch the stream on ESPN3/WatchESPN.
Colorado Springs Switchbacks vs. LA Galaxy II is scheduled to start at 6 pm PT in Colorado. You can watch the game on USL’s matchcenter.