Richard Chaplow has a simple message for his Orange County SC team mentally when they hit the pitch in the 2021 USL Championship Western Conference Final on Saturday: Enjoy the moment.
The head coach was still a midfielder in 2018, the last time OCSC made it to this round of the playoffs, the deepest run in club history, and that night of promise ended up in a heartbreaking home loss to Phoenix Rising FC.
This time, the opponent is San Antonio FC, an opponent Orange County haven’t faced in 2021, and Chaplow is now the head coach, leading a squad that includes three fellow holdovers from the 2018 roster.
On paper, the matchup is a battle of styles, with Chaplow admitting San Antonio’s formation is different. Beyond that, the teams’ games have gone very differently, with San Antonio scoring five goals in two playoff games, Orange County just one goal in their two games.
“We haven’t been a free scoring team at any point, really, in the past 14 to 15 games and even before that, you know, we weren’t a team that were knocking three and four goals past people,” Chaplow told Angels on Parade this week ahead of Saturday’s game at Championship Soccer Stadium in Irvine. “We’re a team that’s built on solid foundations of clean sheets and building out of that. And I think for us, it’s something where we are continuously trying to work on the training field, but that’s the finer details of the game right there, in front of goal, that’s where the money is made, so to speak.”
While Ronaldo Damus is the runaway scoring leader for the season for OCSC, there’s been a platoon of teammates to help him, while defenders Robbie Kiernan (red card suspension) and Kobi Henry (international duty) are available for selection in defense.
“It gives me some some selection headaches, which are always welcome,” Chaplow said about his returning defenders. “Obviously, Rob will be back available. Kobi will be back with us, I believe on Thursday. So we’ll have to have an assessment of Kobi and see where he’s at physically, depending on what game time he gets exposed to. But yeah, it makes us stronger. Obviously, we went into the weekend with only one available center back in Michael Orozco. Credit to the guys that were called upon to play out of position. And we patched it up a little bit but I thought every single guy was outstanding in that backline. Obviously not conceding another goal in 120 minutes, 125 minutes probably with added time, is a testament to the work that these boys are putting in on the training field.”
Saturday’s game is guaranteed to be Orange County SC’s final home game of the year, regardless of the outcome. And Chaplow isn’t looking back too much at the disappointment of 2018 this time around, instead choosing to have some fun while trying to reach the title game for the first time.
“I think obviously, we can all get caught up in the emotions of the event and what it is and what’s at stake, but I always feel that you’ve got to enjoy these moments,” he said. “We were watching the penalty kicks [from the last match] back this morning with the group after at the end of our analysis session. And the guys celebrating after they’ve scored, Patrick [Rakovsky] celebrates after he saves it, everybody running on the field and celebrate and as a team with the fans, and that’s why we started playing. We didn’t play to just be an individual and not create any memories or any moments like we had on Saturday.
“So I think for us, enjoy it. Go out there, you know what’s at stake, but give it your best. No regrets, and let’s see where it takes us.”
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