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Orange County SC 2017 USL season preview

New name, new coach, new roster.

Orange County SC and LAFC have a new partnership this season.
Courtesy of OC Blues FC.

Year founded: 2011

Affiliation: Los Angeles Football Club

2016 record, place in conference standings: 12-14-4, 8th place in Western Conference

2016 playoffs: Western Conference semifinals

Key additions: Oscar Sorto, Juan Pablo Ocegueda, Jerry van Ewijk

Key departures: Trevin Caesar, Didier Crettenand, Ivan Mirkovic

Projected/ideal starting XI (4-4-2): Charlie Lyon; Roy Meeus, Beto Navarro, Sola Abolaji, Oscar Sorto; Amirgy Pineda, Richard Chaplow, Carlos Alvarez, Gustavo Villalobos; Jerry van Ewijk, Duke Lacroix

It’s a new era for Orange County SC. The team, formerly known as the Orange County Blues, have gone through their first offseason under new owner James Keston with a new name, crest and mission. No longer one of a few fully independent teams in USL, Orange County are the first affiliate club with local MLS expansion side Los Angeles Football Club, an arrangement that should be mutually beneficial on and off the field. Add to all that, OCSC are moving to a new home this season, at a new facility in Orange County Great Park, and the season comes with the feeling of a hard reboot. Off the field, it was certainly needed.

The question is whether the reboot will pay off on the field as well. There’s a new head coach, in former Chicago Fire midfielder Logan Pause, and at the moment only four players with prior experience playing for the club back this season. Turnover is not uncommon in USL, of course, but the profile of players being signed is considerably different this year, with an emphasis on young American prospects. They were unbeaten in the preseason, so there’s a chance this team could be really good, but will they reach the playoffs for a third straight season? The last two years have been the two best in club history in on-field results, so here’s hoping the big reboot also comes with a healthy number of wins.

Why you should watch Orange County in 2017

If you’re a hardcore American soccer fan, this roster has plenty of “Oh yeah, I remember that name!” players. Oscar Sorto and Victor Pineda have had cups of coffee in MLS, while Juan Pablo Ocegueda is a U.S. youth international who fans have wanted to see play in the U.S. for years. Add a Mexican youth international in on-loan defender Salomon Wbias, local hotshot Amirgy Pineda, and Dutch attacker Jerry van Ewijk, who scored a bushel of goals in preseason, and there are a lot of young players who could shine on this team.

3 Players to watch

Jerry van Ewijk: No one outside of Orange County will know anything about this guy, but the Dutch import was prolific in the preseason. If the 25-year-old can start the USL season with some goals, he could be a breakout star in the making.

Amirgy Pineda: The 19-year-old is just making his professional debut this season, but it’s already a bit of a bounceback after creating sky-high expectations as a youth prospect. Still, Pineda’s pace and ingenuity in midfield show massive promise, so if he can deal with the physicality of USL and take to the pro game, his star could be on the ascendancy once more.

Juan Pablo Ocegueda: He’s been a promising prospect seemingly forever, and this really seems like a make-or-break season for the 23-year-old. That the fullback corps for Orange County looks fairly deep could help raise his game, or leave him on the outside looking in when it comes to playing time.

The 2017 season will be a success if...

Orange County SC do three things — build the fanbase in a substantial way over the course of the season (attendance at some games in 2016 barely surpassed three digits), develop a player or three who can move up to LAFC (or at least get a chance in preseason next year), and at least be in the playoff hunt for the entire season. Obviously best case scenario is that they definitely make the playoffs and make a deep run while doing well off the field as well, but this year, the off-field efforts need to pay substantial dividends, and grabbing wins, though vital, is only part of the mission.

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