For those of you who can't get enough of the Vancouver Whitecaps there is very good news. There are two matches to look forward to this weekend: the MLS Caps play the San Jose Earthquakes on Saturday evening at 7:30pm PT, and then Alan Koch and his WFC2 squad play the Orange County Blues on Sunday afternoon at 4pm PT.
This week we touch base with Alicia Rodriguez from fellow SB Nation blog, the Goat Parade, to learn a little more about the Thundercaps' opponents. Enjoy!
Note: Chivas USA may be gone, but Alicia and her team have kept the Goat Parade going. Make sure you check in not only for OC Blues FC news, but also the latest on Los Angeles FC.
86 Forever (86F): With this being WFC2's first season in USL many of the clubs the Thundercaps will face will be entirely new to Vancouver fans. Tell us a little about the OC County Blues FC, their key players and what tactics/formations they play.
The Goat Parade (GP): The biggest change for the Blues heading into the season was hiring a new coach, Swiss native and longtime Southern California youth coach Oliver Wyss, to lead the team. The team finished just above last place last season, and it seemed like they needed to bring in a fresh approach. Although we only have one competitive game to go by, it does seem like there's promise this season. Wyss appears to like his team to hold onto the ball, and has brought in several international players (Dutch winger Denzel Slager, who caught my eye on opening day, Swiss midfielder Didier Crettenand, Montenegrin midfielder Luka Petricevic, and Salvadoran forward Christofer Ramirez) who already seem to have plugged some holes in the team and offer instant quality.
Wyss used two strikers in the season opener, and one of them (Chris Cortez) scored, so I figure they'll probably deploy a version of a 4-4-2 again against the Thundercaps.
86F: The Blues have only played one match thus far in 2015, and lost 2-1 to Arizona United SC. What went wrong in that match, and what will they have to improve upon to have success against the Thundercaps?
GP: Defensively, they gave up a pair of goals against the run of play pretty early on, and were unfortunate that Arizona's 'keeper had a monster game, with eight saves by the end, to prevent an equalizer. The Blues overall outplayed AZ United, but it was one of those occasions where it didn't show up on the scoreboard in the end.
I wouldn't be surprised if there are a few more wobbles along the way, considering the new coach and a fair number of new players (although to be fair, this is a hallmark of USL teams in general), but it seems like while the midfield played well in the first game, OC needs to have better finishing overall and make sure they don't have momentary lapses in defense. Still, I thought there was plenty of promise for them from their first game, in spite of the result.
86F: What do you think is a reasonable expectation for the Blues in 2015?
GP: Again, when we're just one game in, it's hard to really gauge the team's level relative to the rest of the Western Conference, but surely the objective is to reach the playoffs. I think the effort, style of play and promise is there, but we'll see if it translates into results.
I do think that for an independent team like the Blues, especially one that doesn't have an MLS affiliate, the stakes are considerably different than they are for a team like the Thundercaps. It seems like part of their quest to be successful is to show the rest of the league, and to some extent MLS as well, that they can develop players and get results. The first step of that would be to qualify for the postseason once again.
GP: WFC2 has played two games to date. How is it going for the team in its first days?
86F: The first match against S2 was a really poor start for the Thundercaps. I'm not sure if it was because Seattle was just that much better, or if it was because WFC2 coach Alan Koch had five of the MLS squad players loaned to him for that match and it disrupted the "chemistry" of his team. Seattle's Andy Craven and Darwin Jones caused all sorts of problems for the Thundercaps, and between them they accounted for all four of S2's goals (and two assists). Additionally, the WFC2 backline looked very disorganized all afternoon long, and they rarely found themselves in a position to threaten the Seattle goal.
Last week against the Austin Aztex the Thundercaps looked much more organized and in control. They started well when Caleb Clarke scored in the twelfth minute, but they weren't able to put the match away until fifteen minutes from full time when Austin ‘keeper, Devin Perales, was unable to stop a thundering free kick from WFC2 defender Craig Nitti. To top it off Billy Schuler scored a third goal in the dying moments of the match to seal a convincing 3-0 victory for the Caps.
GP: Caleb Clarke notched his first goal for the Thundercaps in their last game. As one of the Whitecaps residency products who is still with the first team but hasn't gotten much playing time, do you think he can break through in USL and leverage that into more time with the MLS side? Or might USL ultimately be a better option for him?
86F: I think the USL is the right place for Caleb at the moment. The Whitecaps have quite a few forwards, in particular strikers, all chomping at the bit to get minutes with the MLS team. Darren Mattocks, who has not much playing time with the first team so far this season, scored a goal and and added an assist against the Columbus Crew on Wednesday night. Darren, who undoubtedly is a talented player, has endured all sorts of criticism from the fans over the years for not living up to his potential. If Carl Robinson has finally found a way to bring the best out in Mattocks, then that just puts Caleb further down the depth chart. The question is, though, whether Robinson can give guys like Mattocks, Erik Hurtado and Nicolás Mezquida enough MLS minutes to keep them happy. If he can, and these guys all stay with the Whitecaps this season, then Clarke has a lot of work to do to work his way up in the pecking order.
GP: Among the players who aren't on loan from the Whitecaps, who has caught your eye so far?
86F: One of the guys I have my eye on is striker Jovan Blagojevich, who played for Alan Koch at Simon Fraser University. Blagojevic brings an impressive resume to the Thundercaps, having scored 38 goals in 71 appearances for the SFU Clan. Jovan is coming off a season in which he was in spectacular form scoring 18 goals in 18 matches. This impressive season earned Blagojevic the 2014 NCAA West Region Player of the Year, the GNAC (Great Northwest Athletic Conference) Player of the Year and earned second team All-American honors. It will be interesting to see if Jovan can be successful at the professional level as his was at the collegiate level. It's early days yet, but he did tally an assist against the Aztex.