Well, heading into their game Friday night against defending USL champions Sacramento Republic FC the talk for the Orange County Blues was whether they would be up for the test against the class of the Western Conference.
On the night, anyway, they answered that question in impressive fashion, as they scored a pair of goals on either side of halftime and held on despite a second-half red card to Luka Petricevic to beat Sac Republic 2-1 in Sacramento.
For the first 40 minutes, it seemed like the hosts would quietly contain their opponents, as Justin Braun's strike in the seventh minute gave Sacramento the lead, and while both teams had their moments, the defending champs seemed content to mostly maintain their lead, though they did have a shot that clanged off the woodwork halfway through the first half.
But Dutch-Curacaoan winger Denzel Slager opened his account for the Blues and got the Southern California side back into the game in the 43rd minute, as he ran onto a beautiful curling throughball from -- who else? -- Swiss midfielder Didier Crettanand. Despite calls from Sacramento that the play leading to the goal should have been whistled dead due to a foul on Max Alvarez, to me it looked like Alvarez was really selling what little contact there was.
From there, OC further pushed Sac Republic on the back foot, as Crettenand blasted a one-timer through traffic from the top of the box less than a minute into the second half to give the Blues the lead. What an impact he had on his new team, yet again.
Orange County gave Sacramento some hope as Petricevic was shown a straight red card just before the hour mark for a studs-up challenge. Truth be told, it looked very much like a valid call and fortunately the Republic player involved did not appear to be injured.
But the Blues tightened up their defense and held on to gain a win. How impressive is the result? The Blues were playing their first road game of the season, and their win was just the second ever competitive loss for Sac Republic at Bonney Field. And Sacramento sits atop the Western Conference (they still do, as they have played three more games than the Blues to this point in the season). So yes, it's an impressive win.
There was plenty of physicality in this game, obviously a challenge that merited a red card, and some gamesmanship from the Blues to ice the win. But this was a result to put the rest of USL on notice, that these OC Blues may really be for real in 2015.
1. Didier Crettanand: It maybe becoming routine to list him here after games, but Crettanand's versatile contributions have been anything but. He added yet another assist and goal, and honestly could be making a case as a USL MVP candidate.
2. Brenton Griffiths: The centerback was a steady presence all night, not as physical as his partner Romeo Filipovic but able to make stop after stop on the night against a very potent attack.
3. Denzel Slager: The winger has been pesky in running at defenders and setting up teammates so far. Now that he's added scoring to his resume in USL? Watch out -- he could really turn some heads this season.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!