The Orange County Blues returned to winning ways on Saturday, completing a season sweep against the Portland Timbers 2 by a 3-1 scoreline at Anteater Stadium. Chris Cortez had a brace for the Blues, while Denzel Slager added another goal and David Estrada notched two assists on the night. Fatawu Safiu scored a consolation goal for T2 just before the end of regulation.
The Blues got the needed result by returning to their routine in recent weeks, scoring first and then attempting to lock down their defense to preserve the lead. What helped matters was that they were able to add two insurance tallies to make their lead more comfortable, and truth be told, Timbers 2 didn't really have enough players able to step up on the night and challenge the Blues consistently.
Orange County got the scoring started early, as Estrada set up Cortez in the 8th minute, with the latter making a trailing run in the box before latching onto the ball. From there, both sides had a fair amount of sloppy play in the midfield, with many turnovers, but each team took turns with spells of possession.
As the game wore on, there were quite a few rough challenges, most being committed by T2 but some coming from the hosts as well. Still, the referee kept all players on the field for the match, with no fouls being considered over the line.
In the 59th minute, Cortez made Portland pay for one of those fouls, as he teed up a clever free kick from around the right corner of the box, with the daisycutter going under the jumping T2 wall, and beat goalkeeper Justin Luthy.
Seconds after the second goal, Timbers 2 nearly cut the deficit as Michael Seaton ran downfield on a breakaway and nearly beat Pepe Miranda, but a team effort kept the ball out of the goal.
OC then extended their lead once more in the 67th minute, as Cortez sent a looping pass to Estrada on the left wing. The experienced attacker then sent an aerial cross into the box, and it floated all the way to Slager, whose header from beyond the back post was inch perfect to beat Luthy.
Safiu's goal came in the 88th minute on a penalty kick. It appeared there was a foul in the box on a T2 corner kick, though it's still unclear who was responsible for conceding the penalty. In the end, however, the goal was too little too late for the visitors.
The win for the Blues is crucial to their playoff hopes, as they will finish the weekend no lower than fifth place (standings in the West are still dependent on later results), and grab three points of their magic number coming into the week of nine total. That it comes on head coach Oliver Wyss' birthday is...icing on the cake. *Groan* I'm sorry, that was bad.
The win should also give Orange County some confidence heading into their next match, against dominant local rival LA Galaxy II. The Blues have yet to win against Galaxy II, but they did grab their first point in the teams' last meeting.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!