The homestretch of the 2015 USL season is pretty much here, with August right in front of us and the number of games dwindling. The Orange County Blues enter this weekend's games still holding on in the Western Conference playoff chase, sitting in the sixth and final playoff slot, having played 19 games and with nine more to go, including Saturday's clash against Real Monarchs SLC.
So with the local USL side reaching the final third of the season, what does their run-in look like the rest of the way?
|Date||Home or Away?||Opponent||Opponent's spot in standings|
|Aug 1||Away||Real Monarchs SLC||12th|
|Aug 8||Home||Austin Aztex||8th|
|Aug 15||Away||Arizona United SC||11th|
|Aug 22||Away||Austin Aztex||8th|
|Aug 29||Home||Portland Timbers 2||10th|
|Sept 5||Home||LA Galaxy II||2nd|
|Sept 11||Away||Seattle Sounders FC 2||1st|
|Sept 13||Away||Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2||9th|
|Sept 16||Home||Sacramento Republic FC||4th|
That seems like a halfway decent run-in. The only thing is that in the Western Conference, the top 11 teams (out of 12) have a real chance of making the playoffs. That means all of the teams except Real Monarchs can still attain postseason berths if they can put results together. In other words, there really aren't easy games, even for the teams below Orange County's position.
There's also the matter of the Austin Aztex, who the Blues have not played yet this season. As you can see, the teams each have a home and away game against each other in August. This version of the cliche may not be that popular, but those two games could very well turn out to be a veritable "12-pointer," capable of dealing one team a mortal blow for their playoff hopes. And since the Blues seem to run hot or cold depending on the opponent, that first meeting against Austin on August 8 could be a real harbinger for their chances of getting back to the playoffs.
The other bit of info that could be useful here is the Blues' home and away records to date:
|OC Blues Home Record||6-3-1|
|OC Blues Away Record||2-5-2|
The Blues have four home games and five away games left on the schedule, so that would appear to dent their points projection a bit, since they've won three quarters of their games so far at Anteater Stadium.
But that's looking at their home/away splits in a vacuum. In handicapping their chances in some of these games, it already looks like the games on the road against Seattle and Vancouver are going to be tough to win, since those teams' home splits are substantially better than their road records. In addition, the season finale against Sacramento likely won't be a walk in the park for the Blues despite it being an OC home game, since Sac Republic have been remarkably consistent this season regardless of the venue. And finally, the home game against LA Galaxy II cannot really be a projected win, since the Blues have taken a point out of a possible 21 all-time against their local rivals.
Of course, all of this is not to be overly pessimistic about Orange County's chances of clinching a playoff spot come season's end. They do have a concluding stretch with some really tough games, and some games that could go either way. The Blues have had high moments and low moments this season, and are currently hanging out in the middle of that spectrum, but a run of wins (or of losses) could get them moving around in the table. The schedule is as it is -- the task is for the Blues to string together enough results to eventually play postseason soccer again in 2015.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!