Orange County SC hosted a press conference last week with Japanese superstar Keisuke Honda to elaborate on the midfielder’s recent investment in the local USL team.
Of particular note, the team and player, who currently plays for Mexican side CF Pachuca, announced a partnership between Honda’s youth academy system, Soltilo FC, and Orange County SC, in particular with the stated aim of giving players in the Soltilo network a path to professional soccer, with financial proceeds of player sales being split between the entities. It should be noted that Soltilo FC has five academies around the world, so this could potentially be a vast pipeline if it bears fruit in the future. All told, Soltilo now holds ownership stakes in four clubs around the world: SV Horn (Austria), SOLTILO Angkor FC (Cambodia), Bright Stars FC (Uganda), and now, Orange County SC.
Orange County did emphasize, however, that this partnership is non-exclusive: “Orange County SC is committed to partnering with all youth clubs in Orange County and Southern California to ensure that the benefits of elite youth player development are shared between the professional club and the amateur youth clubs,” the release on the press conference said.
“Southern California has historically been among the largest providers of players to both US National Teams and Major League Soccer,” said Orange County SC general manager and executive vice president Oliver Wyss in a statement. “The union of our two organizations will create a magnet for youth soccer talent in a region with a population of nearly 12 million people – perhaps the largest number of youth soccer players anywhere in the United States, each with an eye towards becoming the next Christian Pulisic, Landon Donovan or even Keisuke Honda.”
Another key part of this partnership will be a commitment to outreach of the Asian American community in Orange County and Southern California overall. This is a pretty interesting component on a number of levels, since there is a large Asian American population here in Southern California, many of that group likes and/or plays soccer, and in spite of that, outreach of Asian Americans has seldom been undertaken in any real way in American soccer.
Orange County SC did have two Asian American players last season, in Zach Kobayashi and Kevin Jeon, so combined with Honda’s popularity among many Asian American soccer fans, this could represent a very savvy marketing move in the long run for the club.
On top of that, the team and Honda’s group have established a commercial partnership for Asian companies interested in entering the soccer market in the region on a youth and professional level. While this may seem dry as dust, for a team that has struggled in the past to pick up significant sponsorships, getting a track for more lucrative moves is a no-brainer, should it produce results on the business side.
Honda will return to Southern California to help host youth clinics and tournaments, which will take place at OCSC’s home of Orange County Great Park.
“I am so excited about soccer in Orange County and about this partnership,” said Honda in a statement. “We spent a long time looking for the right partner that shares our values and is committed to the common vision of the power of soccer to help young men and women reach their full potential on and off the field. When I came here this summer to train, I knew we found our perfect match in Orange County SC.”
Beyond the content in the press release, what were the other highlights of the event? SoccerNation’s Dike Anyiwo had some details, including about the question of whether Honda will ever play for the team he now holds an ownership stake in:
Honda said he might play for the team. No promises.— Dike (@DikeNatsai) December 29, 2017
Honda had three points. Improve the team on the field. Provide ops for Asian players to come here. Establish a scholarship program for intl students.
Also the club has some more youth partnerships coming down the pipeline.
All in all, it seems like there are a lot of plans in place for this arrangement between Honda’s Soltilo group and Orange County SC. We’ll have to see the tangible results that come from this, but the plans certainly seem ambitious, and if they can pull this off, it should represent a significant move forward in Orange County’s establishment as a strong Southern California soccer club.
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