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OC Blues’ founding owner played pioneering role in USL’s growth

We would probably not be here without his efforts.

OC Blues FC Anyang agreement
Mansouri (r) was a pioneer for the USL’s current incarnation.

With the news that the Orange County Blues have a new owner in James Keston, attention will obviously turn to the new order that is expected to come to the team, and with it, the improvements needed to help launch the club into its next phase.

But before that gets fully underway, it’s worthwhile to take a moment and reflect on the impact founding OC Blues owner Ali Mansouri has had, not only on the club but on the USL itself.

When Mansouri entered the Los Angeles Blues, which was their original name, into USL-Pro in 2011, he was taking quite the risk. Entering a market that already featured two MLS teams, with a wide variety of sporting and entertainment options already available, the venture was always going to have to scrap for marketshare and attention. And admittedly, this was a puzzle that has not been solved, as a series of rebrands and team rebuilds, as well as moving around the area, have not fixed the low attendance and general lack of visibility on the team.

But establishing a team in Southern California was a considerable risk on another level, as the Blues were the first team to establish roots on the West Coast in USL-Pro. From a 12-team league in 2011, that included a Caribbean opponent in Antigua Barricuda and the next closest opponent being in Dayton, Ohio, the Blues were very much on a metaphorical island geographically relative to the other teams. It would be two years until another team was established in their time zone, which turned out to be the one-season wonder Phoenix FC in 2013.

Now, the USL has 29 teams, with six teams joining the Blues in the Pacific time zone and another seven west of the Mississippi.

Would USL have reached the West Coast without Mansouri establishing the Blues in the league? We can’t predict what would have happened, but at the very least it seems likely the rapid expansion of the league to a truly national entity would have come at a slower rate without the Blues’ involvement. And at worst, maintaining a regional league may have been USL’s destiny, as the vision needed to establish a far western base and then fill in the map between there and the rest of the league may not have been spurred on with a lonely outpost.

On that topic, there are two oral history stories from last year that may be of interest, discussing the development of the USL and the specific impact of Mansouri and the Blues on the growth of the league, respectively, from the StarNews.

A key quote from the story on the Blues:

“Absolute credit to Ali Mansouri, who’s the owner of that team, for his commitment when he was the lone ranger on the West Coast,” former USL president Tim Holt said. “There’s a competitive impact on that, too. When all your away games are played three time zones away and it makes it hard to compete. Without him staying through that, it would have made it harder to get that second team. Once you get two, it’s easier to convince the third and fourth to come. From there, you’ve established a presence out there. If we have nothing out there and the Blues don’t persevere there, who knows how (the West materializes).”

So with the James Keston era beginning for the Orange County Blues, it’s worth taking a moment to recognize Mansouri’s role in helping bring USL to its most prominent position to date.

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