The problem with announcing your retirement as a player before your team begins the playoffs is you never know which game will be your last. And that has both Orange County’s Richard Chaplow and Phoenix Rising’s Didier Drogba heading into Saturday’s USL Western Conference final at the Orange County Great Park in Irvine wondering if it will be their final time on a soccer pitch.
Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. The teams split their season series 1-1-1.
Before joining the second-division USL, Chaplow, 33, and Drogba, 40, both played in the English Premier League, Chaplow with West Bromwich Albion and Southampton and Drogba famously for Chelsea, for which he scored the winning goal in the 2012 Champions League final.
“The strangest feeling is actually going into each game not knowing if it’s going to be your last,” Chaplow said. “When it is, I’m fully at peace with that decision and very much looking forward to what comes after. It’s the end of an era, but it would be lovely to go the whole way and finish on a high.”
Orange County (20-8-6) finished atop the conference’s regular-season table, then advanced to its first conference final with shutout wins over St. Louis and Reno in the playoffs. Thomas Enevoldsen, a former Danish World Cup player, is the conference’s leading scorer with 20 goals.
Phoenix (19-9-6), which is part-owned by Drogba and former Dodgers pitcher Brandon McCarthy, was third during the regular season before beating Portland and Kansas City’s Swope Park Rangers in the postseason. Drogba had a goal in each game.
Mission Viejo’s Chris Cortez led Phoenix with 18 goals for the season.
Saturday’s winner will play the winner of the Eastern Conference final between Louisville City FC and the New York Red Bulls II in the USL title game Thursday.