The USL announced the format for the remainder of the 2020 USL Championship regular season and playoffs this week, with teams to play 16 games total in the regular season, primarily in regional group play, in groups of four or five teams, with the top two teams in each group going through to the 16-team playoffs.
Teams will play 12 games against their group opponents, with the remaining games coming outside that group, but still against teams in relative proximity, to minimize travel for the league as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
And Orange County SC’s group is not altogether surprising, although it’s a challenge: They’re in Group B with LA Galaxy II, Las Vegas Lights FC, Phoenix Rising FC, and San Diego Loyal. Nothing surprising in terms of geography, but there’s some talent here and only one MLS2 team, one that may actually be pretty good.
Most of the teams in this group have played just one game this season, including OCSC, who opened with a 0-0 draw at home against El Paso Locomotive before the season was suspended. While historically MLS2 teams generally tend to perform worse than independent teams, Galaxy II made the playoffs last year with a very young roster and secured a blowout win, on the road, against RGVFC to open this season. So they might be gamers this year.
Phoenix Rising FC are coming off a historically dominant regular season, and opened this year with a huge win, too. Until we see otherwise, they have to be considered group favorites, although we also know OCSC can beat them.
Las Vegas and San Diego are total wildcards, frankly. Vegas just fired Eric Wynalda, out of the blue, and the new manager will have a lot of work to do, presumably, to pick up the pieces. San Diego have played two games in their history, so it’s truly tough to gauge their level so far. They could be a phenomenon, a typical expansion straggler, or something in the middle.
Basically, I think Orange County have every hope of contending for a playoff spot or winning the group, on paper, and we know how uncertain everything is in general. But it’s also safe to say coming in there may not be many, if any, gimmes from among this group.
OCSC will play three other games against opponents outside this group — probably Sacramento Republic, Reno 1868, and someone else? We await the schedule, which probably needs to drop soon since the league is scheduled to restart on or around July 11.
It’s worth noting, too, that teams in the USL Championship are expected to play in their home venues and play a balanced home-and-away schedule, so Orange County could very well play at Championship Soccer Stadium at Orange County Great Park. However, that is up to the discretion of local health authorities (teams would otherwise have to play in the other team’s venue), as is the provision to allow fans into stadiums. The league has updated safety and hygiene standards should fans attend games, but if that actually happens, do not expect anything close to full capacity. OCSC don’t have a ton of seats at their venue anyway, but if fans are allowed this year, it would almost certainly be a limited number.
We’ll keep you posted on specific schedule and other details as we learn them. For now, we’re getting a better picture of what’s on deck for Orange County SC for the rest of the 2020 USL Championship season.
What do you think? Leave a comment below.