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PREVIEW: WILL GOALS CONTINUE TO FLOW FOR ORANGE COUNTY FC AND CD AGUILUCHOS USA?

When you think of goals, you should think of Orange County FC and CD Aguiluchos USA.  The pair face off in this weekend’s West Region Final, an exciting part of the NPSL Playoffs powered by Mitre.

Orange County scored loads of goals in the 2017 regular season, racking up 65 goals and a +46 goal differential.  OCFC’s attack was paced by 2017 NPSL Golden Boot co-winner Alessandro Canale, who finished with 18 goals.

Canale is arguably the hottest striker in the country, a real physical presence in front of goal.  At one point this season, the Santa Monica, California native scored 13 goals in a three-game span, one of the top streaks ever seen in the NPSL.  Canale credits his teammates for his recent run of form, but admits that this magical attack took time to develop.

“We were a new team.  It was a matter of figuring out who should be on the field, finding the right combination.  The games were tough with good competition.  We did come together and now our team chemistry is excellent and we are having a lot of fun.  We’re looking forward to our next opponent.”

That clearly happened as Canale tallied more minutes and spent more time playing with the same group of people.  He also said that playing for OCFC head coach Paul Caligiuri has paid big dividends.  Caligiuri’s expertise has unlocked Canale’s true potential, a big reason why he’s scoring goals at a record-setting pace.

“The knowledge and experience that he has is amazing,” Canale said of Caligiuri. “He has been through the highest levels for both club and country.  When he speaks, it is a moment of possible learning.”

Canale clearly has learned from the experience, becoming a well-rounded player that also contributed 14 assists to the OCFC attack.  This is not his first rodeo so to speak; he has been a star with the U.S. Beach Soccer National Team for several years.

Canale’s definitely not alone in the Orange County offense, especially when you look at the contributions of Staforde Palmer (12 goals) and Connor Gordon (10 goals) this season.  The trio gave Orange County three of the league’s top 10 goalscorers in 2017 with Canale leading the way in both goals and assists.

When asked about how this potent attack could affect this weekend’s matchup, Canale had a simple answer.

“We have to go out and keep playing the way we have been playing.  I am going to focus on what I can do.  We will focus on our performance and how we play.”

The former UC San Diego standout has been a major part in the league’s top attack, but he is also quick to share confidence in his goalkeeper and backline.  Talent at those positions are a big reason why Orange County has the highest goal differential in the league.

Aguiluchos is no slouch when it comes to scoring goals and creating opportunities.  They are, after all, home to two of the most prolific goalscorers in league history, forwards Simon Rawnsley and Ross Middlemiss.

Rawnsley has two NPSL Golden Boots under his belt, while Middlemiss won the 2013 NPSL Player of the Year award.  In three NPSL seasons, Rawnsley has scored an unearthly 49 goals in 44 appearances.  Middlemiss was voted the top player in the league in 2013 after registering 14 goals and 7 assists for the Sonoma County Sol, one of his former teams.

This is Rawnsley’s third season with CDA and not surprisingly, the Oakland area side has made it to the NPSL postseason each of those three years.  He’s a good luck charm for sure, but more importantly, he is arguably the top striker in the history of the NPSL.

Rawnsley was quick to point out the work of Middlemiss and captain Ricardo Guerra.

Middlemiss is one of the league’s most experienced and decorated players and this weekend will be his fifth West Region Final.  He appeared in the 2012, 2013, and 2014 regional finals with the Sol and the 2015 regional finals with CDA.

“It’s nice to be back in the West Region Final,” Middlemiss commented. “We’re trying to continue the momentum we have going with the playoffs.  There were lots of positives to take from the Kitsap game.  We really weathered the storm there.”

Aguiluchos are one of the hottest teams in the postseason, even though they had a tough finish to the regular season with three straight losses.  They’ve clearly turned it around and got back to their winning ways.  Many people credit Guerra for the massive turnaround.

Guerra has proven to be a  very versatile player, excelling at right back and out on the wing.  Both Rawnsley and Middlemiss called Guerra the nicest guy on the team, a “Mr. Consistency” kind of character.  He’s also the team’s clear leader.

Rawnsley, Middlemiss, and Guerra are all players to watch against Orange County and none seemed to be intimidated by the prospect of facing an opponent they have never played before.

“It’s really interesting,” Rawnsley added. “I like the challenge of facing a new team; it’s a new opportunity.  You do need to mix it up to grow and improve as a team.”

Guerra shares Rawnsley’s excitement for this weekend’s match.  He also knows that home-field advantage could play an important role for a team that has never won a championship at home.  Actually the CDA squad of 2015 spent the entire postseason on the road, eventually falling to national champions New York Cosmos B in the national semifinals.

“We’re really excited to play in another final.  As a team, we’ve been really focused since Day One.  We have been really supporting each other.  We have the opportunity to play for a championship at home.  It’s a huge support.  The crowd always plays a role in a big game like this.”

The crowd is in for a real treat this weekend as two of the top offenses in the entire NPSL will be on display.  It’s seems likely that goals will be aplenty as several of the league’s top scorers take the same field in California.

 

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