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Orange County Blues 2016 USL season preview

Can OC build on their best-ever season in the coming campaign?

Pavle Popara (L) is one of the Blues returning to the team in 2016.
Pavle Popara (L) is one of the Blues returning to the team in 2016.
Liza Rosales/OC Blues FC

Year founded: 2011

Affiliation: Independent

2015 record, place in conference standings: 14-9-5, 1st place in Western Conference

2015 playoffs: Conference semifinals

Key additions: Brandon Miller, Trevin Caesar, Andrae Campbell

Key departures: Josh Suggs, Pepe Miranda, Denzel Slager, Chris Cortez

Projected/ideal starting XI (4-5-1): Brandon Miller; Andrae Campbell, Ryan Felix, Brenton Griffiths, Jack McCracken; Christopher Santana, Pavle Popara, Didier Crettenand, Christian Silva, Nikola Ilich; Trevin Caesar

The Orange County Blues are coming off the best season in club history, but they firmly remain an underdog in USL. Led by second-year head coach Oliver Wyss, the Blues exceeded all expectations in 2015, as they finished atop the Western Conference during the regular season before falling at the first hurdle in the playoffs. Wyss seemed to use OC's independent status to the team's advantage, as the players had plenty of chemistry and were one of the most organized teams for most of last year. And frankly, the team's low profile likely caught opponents off guard at least once or twice.

Despite the strong season last year, the Blues come into the season with considerable questions. An executive spilled the beans on a proposed stadium project for the team last year, but there's been no official news on it, and the Blues could use a home of their own to establish a better footprint in the area. On the field, the roster turnover that's common in USL means it's unclear who will be playing regular minutes, so it's hard to project where they'll finish in a literally crowded Western Conference. Still, Wyss did a great job last year, so he has to be given the benefit of the doubt in embarking on year two at the helm.

Why you should watch Orange County in 2016

If they can continue the momentum they built up last season, you may see one of the more successful rebuilding projects in the league really bear fruit. Sure, the Blues are a USL team, meaning they have their share of physical matches and play long ball at times, but they also press opponents very well and show tactical flexibility, often switching systems during games. And playing in talent-rich Southern California, there's bound to be an MLS prospect or two among the squad.

3 Players to watch

Christopher Santana: Big things are expected of the midfielder this season. He came into his own in the second half of last season, and if he can stay healthy, he could play up to the level that made him a bonafide MLS Homegrown prospect back in the day.

Brandon Miller: Nobody is expecting the practically unbelievable numbers he had en route to a USL Goalkeeper of the Year season with Rochester last year, but Miller is safely in the upper echelon at his position in the league and with another good season could make the jump up to a higher level soon.

Didier Crettenand: Ok, he's not one for the future, but the veteran Swiss midfielder is one of the most talented players in the league, and if he's healthy and playing at his capability, he's a legitimate USL MVP candidate.

The 2016 season will be a success if...

The Blues not only reach the playoffs again but finally win a playoff game. There's sure to be ups and downs over the course of the season, and there's no guarantee in even reaching the postseason. But it's going to be a step backwards if OC don't make the playoffs, and winning a playoff game will help them reach another milestone as a club and fully redeem Wyss' project with the team.

Read more:

Examining the state of OC's 2016 roster

Three big questions for OC Blues in 2016

Even after strong season, folks still don't respect Blues

Looking over Blues' preseason results

What do you think? Leave a comment below!