The Orange County Blues' next game comes on Saturday, as they'll host Arizona United SC for the first time this season. The local-ish rivals have had some pitched battles the past couple years, so it should be an interesting game. In order to get ready for the game, we spoke to Kyle Kepner, who is with both Arizona United blog Firebird Rising as well as SB Nation's Sacramento Republic blog Indomitable City Soccer (not to mention an occasional The Goat Parade contributor), about the desert team coming to the OC. Many thanks to Kyle for taking the time to answer my questions!
The Goat Parade asks Firebird Rising:
1. Arizona United have a new coach, former MLS coach Frank Yallop. How are things going so far this season with him in charge?
Yallop's resumé affords him a fairly long leash with the front office, and fan sentiment seems to reflect that as well. With a three-year contract, the possibility of a strong team in the long term is still a possibility. That being said, results in the season's early going have been underwhelming. Through seven games the team has scored only four goals, but has fortunately come away with a pair of wins. It's still early though, and as the largely overhauled squad begins to gel, the gains that Yallop has realized on offense and defense could begin to produce results.
In 2015 the squad was porous on defense and relied on the counter for its goals. This year Arizona is giving up less than a goal per game and is generating plenty of exciting chances in the final third. A lack of finishing has plagued the team however, and this is likely going to be the focus at training until results change.
2. The team has moved stadiums a couple times in its short history, and they were formed in a matter of weeks a few years back. But they seem to have a strong front office, good social media presence and a growing list of celebrity owners. What's the status of the local fanbase and presence in Arizona? Growing every year, or kind of holding steady at the moment?
Fan turnout in the club's inaugural season was hampered by the short runway you mentioned, as well as the fact that home games were played in a fairly distant suburb called Peoria. Ramped-up marketing and offseason moves for known USL stars, together with the move to a centrally located stadium in Scottsdale brought significantly better average crowds the following year. Unfortunately some late difficulties arose with the renewal of that venue's lease, and Arizona United finds itself back in Peoria this season.
Despite the investments of new celebrity owners Diplo and Pete Wentz, and the addition of a strong media presence, the club still has not engendered a great deal of loyal support, and attendance through two home games this season is much more on par with the first season than we would have hoped. This almost certainly has more to do with the team's poor results on the pitch through two seasons and its flip-flopping of venues than with the front office, but time will tell. There is a passionate base, but it's smaller than last year.
3. Please tell us about an Arizona United player or two we should be watching on Saturday, and why.
Orange County will definitely want to be mindful of midfielder Luke Rooney, whose creativity and relentless hustle on offense will keep the Blues on their heels for 90 minutes. At the other end, look out for big rookie center back Uchenna Uzo. The young man's strength and skill on challenges have been instrumental in keeping former Blues goalkeeper Carl Woszczynski out of the 1v1 situations that ultimately sank Arizona's playoff hopes a year ago.
4 (Bonus) Prediction for Saturday's match?
This is a tricky one, as United and the Blues are having remarkably similar starts to the season. With Arizona's increasingly dangerous attack ready for a breakthrough however, I will give them the 2-1 victory over Orange County.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!