Orange County Blues head coach Oliver Wyss got a lot of signings right in 2015, and the midseason addition of midfielder Pavle Popara adds to that case.
The Serbian, who had bounced around Eastern European teams before joining the Blues in July, joined a team that was struggling and helped right the ship immediately. The 28-year-old was a fixture who played a strong two-way game in the midfield, and helped Orange County to their best-ever season as a club.
Here were Popara's stats with the Blues this year:
|Games Played||Games Started||Minutes||Goals||Assists||Shots||SOG||Yellow Cards||Red Cards|
|USL Regular Season||11||10||916||3||3||26||12||1||0|
|U.S. Open Cup||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
Popara's value was in his versatility in midfield. Although most of his teammates were primarily attackers or primarily defenders, the system Wyss settled on after Popara's arrival, in trying to press opponents early and take a lead before packing it in the back in order to shut out opponents, every player was required to defend, often two distinct ways depending on the game state.
But Popara was capable of notching goals, including a brace against Real Monarchs in a road win, and setting up teammates, while also capably defending the middle of the field.
And one would imagine the fact that there were other Serbians on the squad probably helped his adjustment to a new league and new culture, as he joined the likes of David Estrada and Milton Blanco in requiring no time to settle in before racking up important minutes after joining midseason.
Credit the European scouting pipeline for the Blues, as nearly every player signed in 2015 worked out, as well as the ability to find players right away, local and international, and have them fit right away. The proof is in the pudding -- a team under a new coach, rebuilding after a poor season, turned things around in one season. And they did it even with a midseason wobble that seemed to threaten their positive momentum, before the likes of Popara joined up and solidified the roster.
Obviously, the hope is that he can return to the club in 2016. There's always a chance that Popara's addition was a short-term deal, a quick spell meant to last a few months, nothing more. But if Popara found his footing as easily off the field as he did on, then bringing him back is an obvious move. He's part of the group that played well, has extensive experience, and should be able to help mentor the young players as much as he's contributing on the field. If Orange County want to rise to greater heights in 2016, it seems like Pavle Popara should be part of the core of the squad, put simply.
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