Photo courtesy Liza Rosales / Orange County SC
IRVINE, Calif. – One in-state battle that might have flown under the radar in the build-up for the second week of the USL regular season is that between Orange County SC and Sacramento Republic FC, which sees the sides square off at Champions Soccer Stadium on Saturday night (10 p.m. ET | Match Center).
With Sacramento a historically strong team that is coming off an impressive opening-weekend victory should add even more to this match as it gives Orange County a chance to show its USL Cup Playoffs credentials early against what looked a strong Republic FC side on its first viewing this season.
“There’s always a little bit of a rivalry when you’re playing a team in the same state, but also because they’ve been a top team and that’s what we are working to be,” said Orange County midfielder Aodhan Quinn. “So, it should be an intense game but also good soccer being played.”
After an exciting point stolen at home thanks to Alex Crognale's late goal against Phoenix Rising FC last week, Orange County will be looking to take that momentum and go a step further.
“We ended our last match pretty strong with a 90th-minute goal so I’m hoping we keep the momentum going against Sacramento,” said Orange County midfielder Mats Bjurman.
Republic FC's 2-1 victory against San Antonio FC in its home opener got the side off to an ideal start against another club that's expected to be a Western Conference contender this season. Heading south to face Orange County, though, the side is expecting a stern test after falling 3-1 in its first visit to Champions Soccer Stadium late last season.
“It should be a good battle, they’ve got a lot of new pieces, and brought in a lot of good talent,” said Sacramento forward Cameron Iwasa. “It’s still early in the season, so it’ll be a good test and they have the new stadium from last year and have a good pitch so it should be a good fight.”
SAFC READY FOR HOME RETURN: Having suffered only one defeat at Toyota Field a season ago, San Antonio FC is looking forward to getting back in front of its home fans for the first time this season when it plays host to Saint Louis FC on Saturday night (8:30 p.m. ET | Match Center).
With a handful of newcomers set to suit up for the side after competing at the venue as part of the visiting side, the goal is to send the fans home happy and open the club's account in the win column for 2018.
“I'm very excited for it. I think everyone on the team is ready to play in front of our fans,” said SAFC defender Darnell King, who faced his current club last season with the Tampa Bay Rowdies. “I know how rowdy they get and how passionate they are, so I'm stoked and I can't wait to fight to hopefully get a win for them.”
Toyota Field has gained a reputation for having an electric atmosphere, and after a long offseason the fans ready to get back to the stadium. That is sure to create an even stronger home advantage, with a sellout anticipated for STLFC's visit.
“Everyone is excited to play at Toyota Field. Our fans create a phenomenal environment and are always behind us no matter what, so we’re looking forward to playing in front of them against a very good Saint Louis team,” said SAFC Head Coach Darren Powell.
Saint Louis is visiting Texas for a second consecutive week after having seen its new-look lineup claim a point in a 1-1 draw against Rio Grande Valley FC last Friday night. That performance, and the reputation of new Head Coach Anthony Pulis, has engendered a healthy amount of respect from Powell and his side for a foe San Antonio hasn't faced since the 2016 season.
“Saint Louis has just hired a very good coach in Anthony Pulis, so we expect them to be a very organized and talented squad that will come out here and present a quality playing style,” said Powell. “Our job is to make sure our players are prepared for the challenge, and I think Saturday’s match is going to be exciting.”
PHOENIX LOOK TO LEARN: There was heartbreak for Phoenix Rising FC last week as a late equalizer denied the side victory against Orange County SC after a strong road performance for much of the match.
Despite that the players have been upbeat this week ahead of Saturday's home opener against OKC Energy FC at the Phoenix Rising Soccer Complex (10 p.m. ET | Match Center), accentuating the positives from the opening game of the regular season.
“It was our first game, it was on the road, so if you look at the scoreboard 1-1 is probably fair, you know a point on the road and three points at home is what we need,” said Phoenix goalkeeper Carl Woszczynski. “Being positive about it, we got a point on the road and some good things to work on.”
That attitude has been the right one for Rising FC players in this week's build-up, where the side has been determined at training to put in the work for all three points this week.
“Obviously you have to have a short memory in this game, knowing that we have an important home opener this weekend,” said Phoenix forward Jason Johnson. “Everyone has been jovial and happy, focusing on each training session getting ready for this week.”
One of the key points Head Coach Patrice Carteron has driven home after last week's letdown has been the need to put games away. The mantra of ‘good enough isn’t good enough’ has rung around the training field regularly with OKC, itself coming off a 1-0 win against Tulsa Roughnecks FC in its opening contest, looking to avenge a dramatic late defeat in its last trip to Phoenix.
“There is the feeling that we got off to a great start, we were fantastic and scored, but after the goal we did nothing,” said Carteron. “OC deserved to come back into it, we made too many mistakes, but it’s not so bad a point on the road, that is a good result. I don’t want to think that everything is done, we have a lot of work to do, we did not control the last few minutes of the game, against a very good team in Orange County.”