With less than two months to go, the USL season is heading for a thrilling conclusion. After this weekend’s results, four points separate seventh from eleventh in the West. In the East, three teams are neck-and-neck on the edge of the bubble.
Higher up the table, a few contenders made big acquisitions or lost crucial pieces. All of the player movement will play a part down the stretch.
How will the new faces fit, and what tactical choices defined Week 24? Let’s dig in.
1.) Orange County (+3)
Result: W 1-0 v. Pittsburgh, W 2-0 v. Charleston
When Orange County started 2023 with a spate of promising, frustrating draws, they did so with a rather possession-heavy style that built with patience from the back. Manager Richard Chaplow abandoned those tenets in favor of the long game out of desperation and was let go, but Morten Karlsen's return to such a style has powered this club to a real shot at home-field advantage.
Wednesday's Pittsburgh game was a shining example. On the winner in a one-goal victory, Orange County trusted Dillon Powers, a midfielder-turned-defender, and Kevin Partida, a more natural No. 6, to bear the brunt of the opposing high press. Neither succumbed and lumped the ball long, and both continued to move and bend the defense whenever they passed the thing away. After about 15 seconds of sustained pass-and-move success, Orange County picked their spot to advance downfield and break the lines, feeding Milan Iloski from there to get the goal.
It's a clean, assured style of soccer that's increasingly feeding this club's success.
In another big-ticket inter-conference game with Charleston on Saturday, the same sort of confidence came good once again. Partida and midfield partner Kyle Scott simply ran the center of the park, and the wide players to either side of them effectively clamped down on the Battery's width-centric offense knowing that they had that support in the spine.
A second win against an Eastern juggernaut this week made it nine in 10 matches for Karlsen and co., fully legitimizing Orange County as a contender and one of the USL's absolute best teams.