After losing on the road to San Antonio, New Mexico United return to Isotopes Park to face OCSC on Sunday.
By Seth Biddulph | Photo: Josh Lane
Defending Western Conference regular-season champion Orange County SC has a long history and is on the verge of another playoff berth. To find out more about them, I spoke with Dylan Allen from the Orange & Black SoccerCast about OCSC ahead of this week’s match.
Seth Biddulph: OCSC has been in existence for nearly a decade now. Historically, they haven’t quite been able to string together consistent seasons. Last season was possibly the best in club history; their highest average attendance, best finish to the season. What do you think has been the biggest difference between last season and this one in terms of performance and fan attendance?
Dylan Allen: Last year was massive for the club, and it came as a surprise to most everyone involved, even the coaching staff. The team is culturally different, as the two Danes (Thomas Enevoldsen and Thomas Juel-Nielsen) both came to Orange County to try and get picked up by an MLS side. That same desire isn’t present in Harry Forrester or Liam Trotter, which is nothing against the Englishmen, instead, reflecting the differing stages of the four players’ careers.
Attendance was buoyed by being a dominant side in the league. Attendance this year is at 97.47% of what it was last year, which is to be expected with the drop in league results. The biggest issue involving attendance is that Orange County has a culture problem. The large majority of people do not identify with something that isn’t “major league,” even if the major league offerings in this area haven’t been relevant in over a decade.
SB: Before the club became OCSC, the front office signed an agreement with LAFC to be their USL Affiliate. After only two seasons, that affiliation was ended. How do you feel that partnership went between the clubs and what sort of long term effects do you think it will have if any?
DA: I’m not entirely sure that partnership really benefited either side, other than giving LAFC fans something to do in 2017. The only exceptional player that we ever missed out on was Tristan Blackmon, in 2018, but he was offered at a time when we had eight defenders, four of whom (Amico, Alston, Crognale, and Hooiveld) were basically undroppable. All it means moving forward is that we see LAFC loan to other teams in the west, most notably Phoenix and Las Vegas.
SB: Who or what has been the biggest surprise of the season so far for OCSC? Biggest disappointment?
DA: The biggest player surprise has been the emergence of Aaron Cervantes as a quality USL goalkeeper. His first few matches were shaky, as one would expect from a 17-year-old making his first few appearances. Since then, he’s been exceptional and just headed to the Netherlands for the U17 World Cup camp.
The biggest disappointment is undoubtedly Harry Forrester, who really struggled to create anything until mid-August. A lot of supporters thought he would be the replacement for Thomas Enevoldsen, and that hasn’t been remotely the case. However, he’s shown a late summer resurgence and has notched a pair of assists in his last two matches. He’s coming into form at just the right time.
SB: Looking at the current standings, we all know there’s a giant log jam from 4th through arguably 14th (15 if you think RGV can put something together). OCSC hasn’t really had any sort of extended stretch of poor results, I think the worst they’ve seen this year was that three-match losing streak earlier in the season. What is going to be the key for OCSC if they want to ensure one of the playoff spots this year?
DA: Winning out is undoubtedly the priority at this point in the season. There are a few places where draws are acceptable (New Mexico being one of them), but the team needs to figure out how to win away if they have hope of making the playoffs. The games against New Mexico and Portland are do-or-die. Our average points-per-game is only 1.32, which is level with Los Dos for 10th-best in the league. Thankfully, OC is trending upwards right now. OC needs to keep scoring multiple goals per game and they’ll keep climbing the table.
SB: The club just signed Frederick Due from Hartford. With the way the season has gone for OCSC, do you think this signing is one that will help them make that final push and into the playoffs? Was there another area that you felt the club needed to make a change that could have felt more impactful? Or is there someone from the U23s that you think is ready to make the jump?
DA: I think Due’s signing is helpful as Aaron Cervantes will be on international duty for the last bit of the season, leaving us with only one senior goalkeeper in Carlos Lopez-Cortez. Lopez-Cortez has been error-prone, conceding seven goals in two matches, and conceding two more in a friendly. Rather than chance another young goalkeeper, the club began looking for an experienced option after Patrick McLain’s departure. Due offers a great deal of experience and comes highly rated from Jimmy Nielsen in Hartford, and has meshed in well with the side. New Mexico away will be his debut, and it should show his value.
SB: Let’s take a look ahead. The USL is about to have a much bigger footprint in Cali. How do you think the announcement of USL East Bay and USL San Diego will affect OCSC in the coming years?
DA: Two more away trips, and hopefully it means the league goes to three conferences and cuts out the trips to Oklahoma and Texas. San Diego already seems to be the darling of the league, and I think they will turn out similarly to Phoenix in quality with the backing and excitement that the team has. It’s going to make the West a lot better for the fans, and some interesting rivalries should form. Much like New Mexico is a part of the Four Corners Cup, Californian teams have the Copa Califas.
SB: On a more personal note, what’s your history with soccer? How did you get involved with covering OCSC and given the opportunity, is there another park in USL that you’d like to visit?
DA: I played soccer for a decade. I stopped playing due to injuries and fell out of the sport for a couple of years. Two years and one massive sunburn later, I watched every match of the 2014 World Cup, falling in love with the sport again. Found my local club while playing Football Manager 2015, went to a few matches and joined the County Line Coalition. Last June, this guy struck up a conversation with me at half time against Tulsa and asked if I wanted to come onto his podcast the following week. That was Ray Samora, the creator of the Orange and Black SoccerCast, and I’ve been on every week since. I’d love to go to Al Lang Stadium in St. Pete for a match. It’s right off of the water and is an excellent example of a repurposed baseball stadium.