Who would have predicted the Orange County Blues to finish atop the Western Conference heading into the regular season this year? Heck, who would have predicted it a month before the end of the season? Two weeks?
But finish in first they did, getting a bye in the playoffs and a chance to host at least one home playoff game, maybe more depending on how they perform in the playoffs.
The Blues have been underdogs all season. Catching opponents unaware has been a successful strategy this year, yet they've defied the odds, not only in making the playoffs but in earning such a high seed.
So when the team announced they would be moving the venue for Saturday's Western Conference semifinal playoff game to their opponent's stadium, it raised plenty of eyebrows. For good reason.
There's no question that although the game remains in the area and OC fans can still go and cheer on their team with no need to travel a long distance, the home field advantage they would have enjoyed has disappeared. And to give it to their opponents, the LA Galaxy II, who they have only beaten once in eight tries historically, seems like conceding the tie before it's begun, on some level.
Still, the Blues had little choice in moving the venue, and in the end, although moving it to the opponent's ground is unusual, it's probably for the best of the game overall. And it can potentially be turned into a positive for Orange County.
How, you might ask? It ramps up the underdog label once more for the club. This isn't a team that can rest on its laurels after finishing the regular season strong -- it's a team of temporary nomads facing the team that has been their toughest opponent the past two seasons, in a knockout game, at the opponent's home ground.
If that's not enough to make the Blues feel like underdogs all over again, I don't know what will do it.
The good news from an OC perspective is that they've thrived as underdogs pretty much all season, and have battled back from a long slump to prove their bonafides during the regular season. They have also never won a playoff game in their history. I'd venture a guess that based on those factors, those who follow USL closely will be penciling in the Galaxy II to advance from Saturday's game.
But that just gives the Blues the opportunity to prove the skeptics wrong once again, and continue to fight for a championship.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!