Real Monarchs face OC Blues, who, despite being in USL for a few years, are relative unknowns to us as newcomers to the league. Who better to guide us through that collective grasping at straws than somebody who's actually an expert on the team?
Alicia Rodriguez, managing editor of The Goat Parade (which has, through her hard work, outlived Chivas USA by changing the focus of the site to Southern California soccer — and with true success) answered some questions I had about the match.
Check out the reverse set of questions over at The Goat Parade. You won't regret it. Unless you do — I did write it, after all.
1. Who's one standout from the team that should worry Real Monarchs?
When the Blues are at their best, the man at the center of things is usually midfielder Didier Crettenand. Older than most USL players, the 29-year-old Swiss player joined the team this season, and his quality has shone through. He's co-leader in goals scored, and tends to score or assist goals that lead to points. And as a central midfielder, he's capable of helping to lock down his area of the field defensively, too.
At his best, Crettenand is a USL MVP candidate. But after suffering an injury and going through similar swings as the rest of the team until recently, inconsistency has hit him at times. If Crettenand is quiet, then Real Monarchs are probably very much in the game.
2. Real Monarchs have struggled (to say the least) away from home. What's one thing about OC Blues that might give them a chance to win?
The aforementioned inconsistency should provide the most confidence for SLC heading into the game. After starting the season well, Orange County had a several byes in a row that I think disrupted their rhythm, and then they sputtered badly. The past few weeks have been better, if not quite at the heights they reached in the first few months of the season, but they've played two games a week for several weeks in a row, and this is the first week where they're back to a one game spell. Does that mean their rhythm will be off? It's entirely possible.
But that's kind of psychological. On the field, the Blues have been most inconsistent in the defense, and to pile on to the matter, their leading central defender, Brenton Griffiths, is suspended for this game. So if Real Monarchs can score early and build a 2-0 or 3-0 lead, it's much more likely they'll hold on to win than they'll drop points, based on the Blues' recent defensive record.
3. OC Blues are now more or less USL mainstays — how does it feel with this seeming MLS invasion? Is there any sense of righteous indignation among fans?
I haven't gotten that sense whatsoever. While there has been a bit of trepidation to see the distinctions between the MLS-owned teams, the affiliated teams, and the independent teams (of which the Blues are one), it appears that there is no major stratification in the standings and attention at this point. That may come over time, and there are certainly advantages and drawbacks to being an independent team, but for minor league soccer, one of the interesting things is to see the variety of players around, and having many more teams out west nowadays makes the schedule a lot better and varied for fans to see.
It also appears to strengthen the prospects of the league long-term, which has always been a problem for lower league soccer in the U.S. and Canada. I think there could be some nerves about the Blues' lagging attendance for most games, but on the bright side they seem to be building an on-field product that could find success if given time and sufficient resources.