The Orange County Blues welcomed Real Monarchs SLC to Anteater Stadium for the teams' first-ever meeting, and the home side came away satisfied, as they beat the Real Salt Lake-owned side 1-0 on Saturday night. Denzel Slager's goal made the difference, while Pepe Miranda and the defense held firm to help preserve a key victory on the night.
Perhaps the big move on the night by Blues head coach Oliver Wyss was opting to start rookie midfielder Ryan Felix at center back in place of the suspended Brenton Griffiths alongside Beto Navarro. The move paid off overall, but the impact of Miranda's play cannot be overstated, who made eight saves and was commanding in his area on the night. After a series of games where his influence was inconsistent, this was just the performance the Blues were looking for from their netminder.
Possession was largely even in the first half between the teams, and the Blues were aggressive in putting together chances. The game's first 15 minutes were fairly chippy, as a series of rough challenges from both sides led the referee to eventually begin handing out yellow cards to stem the flow of dangerous tackles. And on the whole, it worked, at least until the game's dying minutes.
Slager put OC on the board in the 43rd minute. The Blues played a ball through the middle, and it trickled into the box. Pavle Popara hit a shot down the middle that SLC goalkeeper Eric Osswald blocked, but Slager hit a rocket in response off the rebound that Osswald couldn't keep out of the net.
In the second half, the Blues replicated the strategy they used in their last game, as they retreated to their own half and sought to solidify their defense in order to preserve their lead. Fortunately, this time it worked, though the strategy of conceding possession may be pretty risky overall. Regardless, it worked to preserve the shutout against Real Monarchs.
The win means the Blues are back in the playoff spots in the Western Conference, and will remain there for at least the rest of the weekend. There are nine games left in the season for them, so there's still a lot of work to do, but it's a good sign for Orange County's postseason hopes to beat the team that's at the bottom of the Western table. Their next quest? Trying to pick up three more points against Real Monarchs, next Saturday in Utah. It wasn't the most exciting play we've seen from the Blues this season, but the win is objective No. 1, and they accomplished that.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!