The big playoff game in Southern California is just a day away, and it's a winner-take-all occasion, as the Orange County Blues and LA Galaxy II square off in the USL playoffs. We've seen these teams play four times already this season, so will there be any surprises? Of course, we won't know until gametime what those surprises will be, most notably with the lineups, as both coaches have done plenty of rotation over the course of the season and there is no set XI on either side, really.
But how can these teams gain the edge in the game? Let's go over a few tactics that should unfold over the course of the game:
- Interrupt passing lanes: One of the advantages of playing a team so often is that you become familiar with their tendencies. In these clubs' final meeting of the regular season, one of the striking features in the play was how both teams anticipated the other side's passing lanes well and kept disrupting spells of possession. This sounds obvious, but of the games I saw this season in USL, this was probably the best example of teams proactively stepping to the ball to disrupt the flow, rather than sitting back or pressing the man, not the ball. If teams are capable of intercepting passes on the regular, they aren't taking as many chances as they would on the press, and they are still actively working to regain possession. When it works, it's a win-win arrangement for 90 minutes. These teams were comfortable doing that to one another, and the result was a game that wasn't decided until the final minute. Expect a similar gameplan on Saturday, where taking chances on defense will be frowned upon, most likely, but both teams will be eager to keep the ball away from the opponent.
- OC - Score and hold: The biggest on-field transition that took place to shake the Blues from their midseason slump was a tactical switch, to press early, grab the lead if they could, and once that was taken, to sit deep on defense and only attack on the counter. The first game where it really started coming together was their third meeting against the Galaxy II this season, where the Blues fulfilled the first half of the plan, grabbing the lead, but could not hold on all the way as an equalizer was scored, leaving them to settle for a point. Obviously if the Blues have to come from behind and they manage it, they won't care how they did it, but the score first and take care of defense strategy is clearly the plan they are most comfortable with right now, and I expect they'll do everything they can to fulfill it (even if they seek to pad their lead so they aren't perched on a 1-0 scoreline).
- LA - Killer passes through to the forwards: The Galaxy II will find success if they can find throughballs and passes over OC's defense to their strikers. Ariel Lassiter had a good season, and won't need many chances to find the back of the net if he gets a pass in the box. Jack McBean's year has been inconsistent, but he shoots as often as anyone in the league and if he's given enough chances, he'll bury the opponent. LA are capable of playing good passing soccer into and through the final third, and they are savvy enough to mix up their approach over the course of a game. But their bread and butter is making the key pass to unlock a defense and give their strikers the best chance of scoring, and expect them to try it in this game.
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