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Orange County Blues 2016 Player Postmortem: A.J. Gray

The Canadian brought a needed presence on the wing at the end of the season.

Gray (No. 24 in orange) in action for the Blues in 2016.
Gray (No. 24 in orange) in action for the Blues in 2016.
Nick Smith/Swope Park Rangers (via Flickr)

Today's entry in the rundown of all of Orange County Blues' players in 2016 is winger A.J. Gray. The Canadian had spent most of his career in Scandinavia, but returned to Southern California (he had played for the Ventura County Fusion in the past) to sign with the Blues at the beginning of August.

Part of the late-season signing blitz to bolster the squad for a playoff push, Gray played his part with the reinforcements, mostly coming off the bench as a change of pace option for the team.

Here are Gray's statistics with the Blues in 2016:

Games Played Games Started Minutes Goals Assists Shots SOG Yellow Cards Red Cards
USL Regular Season 6 2 125 0 0 3 2 0 0
USL Playoffs 1 1 88 0 0 1 0 0 0
U.S. Open Cup 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Total 7 3 213 0 0 4 2 0 0

As far as impact, Gray did give opposing defenders a tricky time, able to bomb up the wing and dribble around, although he was not able to chip in any goals or assists in pretty limited minutes. He did start the final game of the season, the playoff game against Swope Park Rangers, a tricky game that ultimately ended sadly for the Blues, being up by two men in extra time but conceding a shorthanded goal. Gray, however, exited before most of the fireworks of that wild game kicked off.

In 2015, the Blues were very much dependent on a true winger, Denzel Slager, for pulling open space in attack for his teammates, not to mention contributing goals and assists himself. Slager is built differently physically than Gray, using power and speed where Gray is more speed and agility on the flank. When Slager moved over to LA Galaxy II last offseason, that left a hole for a winger, and Barry Venison opted to move away from using a traditional winger until Gray's signing. While he had far less time to make a mark than Slager the previous season, Gray's addition showed the merits of having a winger, even if the returns (in limited minutes) were not quite as stark.

Will Gray be back in 2017? That part is unclear. Gray's twitter account still lists the Blues and there's no news as of today of a new destination. Of course, with a new coach coming in and the USL's trademark roster churn, Gray may or may not be in the club's plans. As a late-season addition, he helped the Blues reach greater heights than ever in 2016, but it's unknown if he'll be reprising his role on the wing in OC in 2017.

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