Sound the alarms! Three questions is back!
The USL season is now upon us, and the Orange County Blues first take to the field tonight against Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2. The club, unforgettably nicknamed the Thundercaps, enter their second season in the league looking to establish more of a footprint and develop players to boot. In order to get ready for tonight's game, I spoke with Bartosz Wysocki of SB Nation Whitecaps blog Eighty Six Forever about the Blues' opponent. Many thanks to Bartosz for taking the time to answer my questions!
The Goat Parade asks Eighty Six Forever:
1. Entering season two for Whitecaps 2, what are the main changes and objectives for the team this season? Is there a shift in how the roster is built or what the priorities will be at the USL level?
The goal will be first and foremost to continue developing young talent into potential first team players. Creating a supply line of young yet battle hardened pros for the first team is the purpose of having a team in the USL, and this is definitely seen in some of the signings that WFC2 has made in the offseason. Standing out among the young guns will be 15-year-old Alphonso Davies, showing that we're willing to invest as young as possible. Alan Koch has a long history of creating excellent players at Simon Fraser University, and I believe he'll have no problem with the current squad.
As obvious as it sounds, the best way to see if your players are improving is if you're able to get wins on the field. Opening seasons are rarely successful for teams in any sport, so the poor results the Thundercaps got in year one are forgivable. However, we do hope that things can improve this time around, and a major objective for us will definitely be to try and challenge for a playoff spot. If we can make it in, or at least be a serious threat for a spot, it'll show a massive improvement over last year.
2. Is there a player or two you think could play a big role in Saturday's game against Orange County?
Up front, Daniel Haber will definitely be one of our biggest threats, and we're all hoping that he wastes no time ratcheting up goals for the Thundercaps. He was successful playing in the Israeli second division, and we hope that he can continue the scintillating form he had in the preseason, scoring six goals. As well, having a Canadian doing well on the team is always a positive thing to see, so hopefully he can be a big part of the Thundercaps offense.
On the defensive end of things, Sem de Wit is someone we hope can hold the fort. The 20-year-old has played a couple seasons in the Netherlands lower divisions, and he has proven himself in the preseason as a solid centre back. Though not the tallest defender in the world at just under 6-feet tall, I'm sure that his experience in Europe can give strikers problems here in the USL.
3. How are people following the ThunderCaps locally? Are they building a following, or have people still not yet come around to the team?
The first year could definitely be considered a mild success in regards to popularity. The Thundercaps averaged just under 1,700 at their games, which while not in the top tier of the league, isn't all that bad considering the size of Thunderbird Stadium (3,500). There have been some games which had over 3,000 people showing up, which is an excellent fact, and we never had less than 1,000 at a game, which shows a good level of consistency. Being the most watched Canadian USL team is definitely a nice title to have.
However, we still are trying to grow our fanbase, and this is clearly seen with WFC2's decision to host a couple games outside of Thunderbird Stadium. Two games will be played at McLeod Athletic Park in Langley, a suburb about an hour east of Vancouver. This is definitely an attempt to grow the Thundercaps' popularity outside of the City of Vancouver, and if those games are well attended it could lead to more games being played in different areas around the city.
4. (Bonus) Prediction for Saturday's game?
3-1 for Orange County. Playing on the road against last year's Western Conference king is never going to be easy to do. Though I think we have enough talent up front to get us on the board, the OC Blues will overwhelm us by the end and run out comfortable winners.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!