Orange County SC kick off the 2017 USL regular season on Saturday against Reno 1868 in Nevada. Final preparations are being made before the first kick of the new season, and ahead of that, we’ve got key questions for the coming campaign.
What is the goal in 2017?
Of course, on some level the goal for all teams is to win games, but anyone who has followed USL knows there are shades of difference between teams fully independent and the “MLS2” teams as far as how they approach each game. USL remains a development league, and so while teams don’t aim to tank, they may take the pain of a four-game losing streak if a hot prospect is thrown into the deep end, to see if he’ll emerge on the other side.
Orange County SC are embarking on a new era, with a modified remit, as the USL affiliate of Los Angeles Football Club. While affiliate agreements run the gamut, from close interaction between clubs to practically none, it does seem like this particular partnership is less a place to park a few guys at the end of an MLS bench and tick off a box and more like an actual relationship. And so the question turns to what will constitute success for Orange County in 2017. A title or bust? Another playoff berth? Something else?
How will Logan Pause perform in first head coaching job?
One of the nice things about this era of American soccer is that there are more teams than ever, and more opportunities for players and coaches to show what they can do. You clearly still need connections to get a foot in the door, but there isn’t a hermetic boys club of 15 guys endlessly exchanging jobs at the moment.
Into this era, with quite possibly the best crop of new coaches ever seen in the pro game in the U.S., comes Pause. He’s got vast experience as a player, a one-club man with the Chicago Fire, and then some coaching experience working at various levels for the Fire. So he’s seen the game from a couple different perspectives.
There is, however, the question of moving up from an academy job to the pros. There will be no harsh media glare on Pause, let’s be real, but it is still a transition nonetheless. And while a surprisingly large number of young ex-pros taking their first coaching jobs have succeeded in the past decade (to the point that they last at least three seasons in their post), there’s always a risk that the next guy won’t be the right fit. Knowing Pause’s track record, he seems like he’ll do fine, but until some games are played, there’s always that new coach bedding-in period, and we’ll see how he does in adjusting to the new role.
How many players will move to LAFC next year?
The profile of this Orange County SC roster is unmistakable — young, promising players who have bounced around a bit or just need to find the right place to take off. There have been no explicit pronouncements yet, but it appears some of the signings were made with a possible eye on giving the players a chance to prove themselves at USL level this year, and maybe move up to LAFC’s roster next season.
I would hazard a guess that nearly every player currently on this roster has a chance of getting an MLS deal if he impresses, but ultimately how many players will get the nod by the MLS expansion team? The closest analog, Atlanta United, stashed several players at USL partner Charleston Battery last year. This season, four of those players who played for Charleston are on Atlanta’s roster, but two of them were loaned back to the Battery this season. Will the number be similar next year for LAFC?
Who will be the breakout star in 2017?
Ok, this one fits in large part with the last question, although anyone who has followed USL knows that not every USL superstar will get a move to MLS (nor is it always warranted). Orange County’s team is young, which may or may not lead to a lot of tough games, and it’s chock full of “Hey, I know that name!” players. Between Pause’s old teammate Victor Pineda, Oscar Sorto, Juan Pablo Ocegueda, Joe Franco and Charlie Lyon, there’s several guys with some name recognition among hardcore U.S. fans. Add in local product Gustavo Villalobos, imposing defender Sola Abolaji, Dutch import Jerry van Ewijk, and so on and so forth...There are a few candidates, and we’ll see who emerges as a key player on this team this season.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!