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With second-half surge, Orange County Soccer Club coach Richard Chaplow sees interim tag removed

Orange County Soccer Club's Ronaldo Damus battles for control of a ball with San Diego Loyal's Elijah Martin.
Orange County Soccer Club’s Ronaldo Damus battles for control of a ball with San Diego Loyal’s Elijah Martin during a game at Championship Soccer Stadium in Irvine on Oct. 20.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Following a second-half surge that has led the Orange County Soccer Club to the Western Conference semifinals of the United Soccer League Championship, the organization announced Tuesday that it is removing the interim tag for head coach Richard Chaplow.

Chaplow, a former captain for Orange County as a player, assumed the role of head coach on an interim basis after the club decided to move on from Braeden Cloutier midseason. He had been serving in that role since August.

“It’s never easy to make a change, but at the end of the day, you have to make the change,” Oliver Wyss, president of soccer operations for Orange County Soccer Club, said. “You have to be willing to make it when it’s needed, and we came to the point where a change was needed, and we needed to go in a different direction. It was very clear that Richard would have a profound impact on the team when the change was made.”

Orange County (16-10-7) responded to the transition by going 8-3-2 to close out the regular season, chasing down the San Diego Loyal for the second seed in the Pacific Division. That led to a home game in the first round of the playoffs, with Orange County ousting Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC 1-0 on Saturday.

Chaplow said the goal when he was elevated from assistant coach to the interim head coach was to make the postseason.

“That was always the target,” Chaplow said. “We checked that box with [two matches] to go, and then we started chasing down second. Obviously, the two wins against San Diego — away from home and at home — were massive in that, with them being in front of us. Obviously, we knew Phoenix were long gone in that respect, in the first spot.

“Delighted that we were able to lock in the second spot in our [division], and deservedly so, for the performance and the efforts that the boys put onto the grass.”

Ronaldo Damus scored in stoppage time in the first half, and Orange County shut out an opponent for the fifth time in its past six matches to advance.

The ball has continued to roll in Orange County’s favor, as the local club will get another home game in the semifinals against Oakland Roots SC after the latter upset El Paso Locomotive FC 1-0 on Friday. El Paso (18-5-10) was the champion of the Mountain Division, while Oakland (12-13-8) claimed the fourth and final playoff spot out of the Pacific Division.

Orange County outscored Oakland 7-1 in winning all four meetings between the teams this season. The semifinal match is Saturday at 7 p.m. at Championship Soccer Stadium in Irvine.

Chaplow said the Oakland result in the first round is proof that anything can happen in the playoffs, which he compared to a lottery or a casino.

“Our record against them so far goes out the window right now,” Chaplow said. “We have to focus on this being a one-off game. We have a job to do, and we have to make sure that this week, we check the boxes to get that done.”

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