The Orange County Blues wrapped up a remarkable turnaround in the 2015 USL regular season on Tuesday night, as they tied Sacramento Republic 0-0 at Anteater Stadium in Irvine. The draw means the Blues have finished the season as the first place team in the Western Conference, their best-ever regular season finish in their history and will have a bye in the USL playoffs as a result of holding the top seed.
Frankly, the game itself was not a neutral's delight, as both teams were very cautious defensively and put up few clear chances for the respective goalkeepers, with both Pepe Miranda and Dominik Jakubek each having to really only make one save, and both sides coming close but not quite on target throughout.
Sac Republic had an edge in the run of play in the first half, while the Blues looked unable to really put together their usual crisp passing through the middle of the field. And Sacramento did well to seal off the left flank, leaving left back Josh Suggs unable to make his marauding runs up to the final third as he's done all season. It was pretty evident that both teams had done extensive research on the opponent, and it felt like a playoff game, really. At the same time, OC never got stretched out, and only needing not to lose, became more and more cautious as the game wore on, and picked up a few yellow cards for time wasting as the minutes ticked down.
But having a one-point lead on Sacramento heading into the game, they had that privilege of playing for a draw, and got the job done. The result means Orange County have gone from worst in the Western Conference in 2014 to first place this season, a pretty remarkable turnaround and one that was not expected around the league heading into the season. It also means that they will sit out this weekend's playoff action, and host the winner of the Sacramento Republic-LA Galaxy II first-round game on Oct. 3 or 4. Given the Blues' history with those two teams, they've got their work cut out, no matter how good their season to date, so they'll have to get going on preparations for that game pretty soon.
For now, though, they can bask in the feeling of reaching another one of their goals this season, hitting greater heights than they ever have, and look to continue the momentum in going for the USL title.
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