1. How successful has the re-branding been for the Blues? Though it wasn't as dramatic as that of Arizona, how has the name change and relocation affected the team?
The re-branding has been good for the Blues. As a team that plays in Orange County, it is good that they are identifying with the community that houses them. The move to Anteater Stadium on the campus of UC Irvine has been great because Cal State Fullerton's Titan Stadium was so cavernous that even a big crowd looked sparse. There has been a slight uptick in attendance and the setting is more intimate, allowing for a better game-day atmosphere.
Moving to Irvine has also allowed the Blues to create an identity. They are doing a lot of work in the community and can reach out to the city's strong youth clubs such as the Irvine Strikers and the Pateadores Soccer Club. With all that said, rebranding will not change the results on the field and the Blues are on a five game loosing streak.
2. How has the team dealt with having so many loaned players on the squad? By my count there have been 9 players (Long, Peay, Tshuma, McKenzie, Ford, Okoli, Kovar, Watson-Siriboe, Sofia) that have played for the Blues on loan from MLS clubs. Has it been hard for the coach Yazdani to build chemistry in a squad that has been changing so much?
It has been very tough; players like Tshuma and Ford left almost as quickly as they arrived. Kovar and Okoli only played two games, while Long played three. Only Okoli contributed to the offense with one assist which is the same amount of points that Ford (a goalkeeper) had. The best of the loan signings was Watson-Siriboe who came in and really settled the defense. The Blues won all four games that Watson-Siriboe played in while recording clean sheets in two of them. Once Watson-Siriboe was recalled by Real Salt Lake, the Blues defense fell apart. Orange County has only won one game without him while struggling to find a strong central defensive partnership.
With all that said, Yazdani likes to change his line-up based on the opponent, so even without all the players comming in and leaving, you still might see a team that is constantly changing. With that said the players who have been in Irvine all season do have a good team spirit which has been fostered by their captain Allan Russell.
3. Orange County is one of about 5 teams on the bubble for the postseason, what does the team have to do in order to make the playoffs for the third time in four years?
The Blues first and foremost have to figure out the center of their defense. It has been a mess ever since Watson-Siriboe was recalled from his loan spell. At the same time, the Blues have gotten away from what took them into the playoff spots in the first place. When the Blues won 5 of 7 games before going win-less in July, they were very proactive. Orange County played a high line and pressured every ball, not allowing opponents the time or space to trap the ball and pick up their heads. The Blues worked to win possession back and get into dangerous areas.
In the last five games, the Blues have been very reactive, stepping to the ball only after their opponent has received it. This allows their opponent to get the ball, pick his head up, and make a decision all before a Blues' defender arrives. The Blues slide also coincided with an injury to Chris Cortez who formed a good understanding with his runs from just underneath Allan Russell. Even though Cortez played 70 minutes v. Oklahoma, the Blues have gone 283 minutes without scoring and Russell hasn't found the back of the net since June 28th.
If the Blues can find a solid center-back pairing, if they play high pressure and move the ball at a quicker tempo when they have it, and if Cortez and Russell can once again find their form, the Blues may be able to reverse the slide.
A probable lineup and score prediction:
With Dariush Yazdani at the helm, you never quite know who will get the nod for the starting XI.
As for the score, Rochester's defense has been very strong this year, but their offense isn't exactly firing on all cylinders. I see the Blues finally breaking their three game goal drought and taking a point from Sahlen's Stadium after a hard fought 1-1 draw.
Huge thanks to Marc Serber for helping us out with this match preview. Hopefully he's wrong with his predicted scoreline but he definitely provided ample information about the Southern California USL Pro club.