Orange County SC have built themselves into a quality team over the past several seasons, but after a strong start to the season gave way to a slump in the summer, head coach Braeden Cloutier was surprisingly dismissed in August even though the club’s position in the standings was still pretty solid.
It appears the decision has worked on the field, however, as OCSC under interim head coach Richard Chaplow are currently playing their best soccer of the season, ahead of Saturday’s USL Championship playoff game against Colorado Springs Switchbacks at Orange County Great Park.
On a five-game winning streak to close out the regular season, Chaplow reflected on the whirlwind past few months in an interview with Angels on Parade ahead of the big game.
“It was obviously a surprise when we got the opportunity to step up into the role,” Chaplow said on Tuesday of his midseason promotion. “I think first and foremost I had a good bond with Braeden and worked closely with him first as a player and then as a coach, so never nice to see somebody that you work with and a friend lose their job.
“But you know, ultimately off the back of that we needed to do a job for the club and for the organization and get the team back performing and doing what we know that they’re capable of. So the transition was wasn’t something I really got a moment to think about. We just got thrown right in there and got on with it. And you know, I think now sat here today we’re happy with the way it’s gone, with the way the boys have bought into what we’re trying to do. And obviously we’ve seen a nice turnaround in results on the field which is healthy for everybody,” he added.
Joining the coaching staff midseason at Orange County was Paul Hardyman, who was a professional player in his native England in the 1980s and 1990s and who was brought in to work with the OCSC young prospects in particular.
When asked whether the concept of playoffs — which often flummox foreign players and coaches who aren’t familiar with American sports — was strange to them, Hardyman said not at all, as a veteran of the English version of the playoffs.
“In England, the playoffs were brought in back in the I think it was early ‘90s for promotion and relegation...” Hardyman said. “It’s a great challenge for the boys in that it’s almost like you go through a league process and now we’re in the knockout process, a cup process. So anything can happen in these games and it can be a mistake by an individual, it could be a referee mistake that costs you, and if it goes down to penalties then it’s a lottery, who wins that?
“You know, it’s nerve-wracking times when you’re in those playoffs,” he continued. “I’ve certainly played it, I’m sure Richard as well and it’s a case of that you don’t want to be the one to make the mistake that costs you that the team has progressed. In England, they have the one playoff [game] from the Championship to the Premiership which they’ve told me about being worth over £100 million. So if that boils down to one individual missing the penalty kick then you know, that’s tough.
“So, actually, the question really is that we’re both used to it and I think that we’re going with a really positive attitude and try and get that across to the players for sure.”
For the players, the aim is straightforward: Keep on winning.
“The objective is is to win and think we were coming off of a five game winning streak and only one goal conceded and I just think overall the team’s in a really good spot and we just need to continue to have this winning mentality though and get us results going forward. And so I think we just need to continue doing what we’ve been doing in the past couple of weeks,” said defender Kobi Henry.
Chaplow said that while he’s pleased with the ability of Orange County SC to grind out results and rescue stoppage-time winners, he would very much like his side to be more clinical in attack so as not to need the last-minute heroics.
But going against a Colorado Springs side that has the league’s most prolific scorer this season in Hadji Barry and finished nearly level on points with them, Orange County know it’s not going to be an easy match.
“Whoever’s made the playoffs in whatever league they’re in, obviously has done that throughout the season. They’ve warranted that. So whoever we were going to play, it didn’t matter. You know, first, second, third or fourth. It’s going to be a tough game. We’re expecting a tough game. But we’ve just come off the back of probably five or six tough games ourselves in our league to to get into the situation we’re in, which is something that we’re very, very proud of,” Hardyman said.
“So what we’re asking them to do is go out and carry on exactly the same work that they’ve been doing. We’re gonna have a good week’s training in preparation, and we will make sure that come Saturday, we’ve given them everything to cope with a game situation and go out and do well. So we’re confident that we’ve gotten this far. One of the players actually said it today: We should be planning that we’re going to be here for the month, not for a week. So that’s where we’re going,” he added.
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