Chris Cortez had in some respects his best season as a professional in 2015.
The forward, in his third season with the Orange County Blues, started out the season more as a bench option than an established starter for Oliver Wyss, but even though the coach opted to rotate his strikers throughout the season, Cortez emerged as the starter more often than not by season's end. As a result, he played more minutes than he has before in a season.
He was tied for third on the team in goals, alongside Denzel Slager and behind just Didier Crettenand and Christofer Ramirez. A brace against the Portland Timbers 2 saw him named USL Player of the Week in September, the first Blues player to get that award in over two years.
And Cortez's physicality, his ability to contend for aerial balls and put his body on the line battling it out with burly center backs helps not just him but his teammates as well. As long as he's up top, he's got the potential to notch a goal, and that gives other attackers space to try and grab a goal, too.
Here were Cortez's statistics in 2015:
|Games Played||Games Started||Minutes||Goals||Assists||Shots||SOG||Yellow Cards||Red Cards|
|USL Regular Season||24||20||1,618||6||2||55||29||6||0|
|U.S. Open Cup||1||0||31||0||0||1||1||0||0|
So what's not to like about Cortez's game? At this point, what you see is what you get. He's 27, so probably around his peak, and while his effort is never in doubt, scoring on just 20 percent of his shots on goal is not a great return for a forward. I was a little surprised in looking back at his numbers, because while the season was going on he seemed to be doing pretty well, but with the season fully in the books his numbers don't look quite as good.
Realistically, Cortez is best suited as a support striker, being the secondary option beside a real out-and-out scorer. He did score 10 goals for the Blues in 2013, but I just don't think he's up for being a double-digit scorer on a regular basis.
The good news is as long as the lineup is built right, Cortez's shortcomings don't have to be as glaring, and in 2015 they weren't. He worked hard and popped up with goals every so often, which was pretty much what was expected of him. The team's scoring was so balanced that no player had 10 goals on the season and when a player was out injured or suspended the other guys stepped up in the breach. All told, it was an ideal situation for Cortez, and as a solid team player he contributed as well.
Since Christofer Ramirez is most likely not coming back and every coach is on the lookout for a scorer, I imagine Wyss is not going to expect Cortez to take on more of the load in 2016, assuming he's coming back. Instead, the quest will be to add another striker or two, to rotate the position and see what works. It was a successful strategy in 2015 and I can't imagine Wyss will diverge a great deal next season.
I wouldn't be surprised if one of the many expansion USL sides tries to pry Cortez away from the Blues, for his experience and professionalism foremost, but it seems a solid bet he'll return in 2016. Again, as long as he isn't tasked with too many expectations on the goal front, I think it's a good move. The former Chivas USA striker may have found the perfect spot in Orange County, and there's every reason to think he could continue to chip in to the cause in 2016.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!