Orange County SC played their eighth season as a professional team in 2018, and had their best campaign to date. While 25 players featured for the USL club during the campaign, there were a few who did not see any action in competitive games. To kick off our player reviews for Orange County, our fourth straight season of that series, let’s begin with those players who didn’t feature in a game.
Aaron Cervantes: The goalkeeper was signed as Orange County SC’s youngest player, at the tender age of 15 back in March. Over the course of the season, Cervantes played for his academy side, Pateadores, and received a couple USMNT U-17 call-ups. With Andre Rawls firmly entrenched as the starting goalkeeper for Orange County, and Casey Beyers and Luis Lopez available to deputize on the rare occasions the New York City FC man couldn’t play, Cervantes was the third-string GK on OCSC’s roster throughout the year, although he made the 18 a handful of times.
While Orange County’s leaders talked up Cervantes and GM Oliver Wyss even told a local outlet earlier this year that he was “convinced” Cervantes would play on the first team, the other three ‘keepers held him off. That’s ok. One expects Cervantes was signed as a project, not as a player expected to start at 15.
I’d expect he’ll be back next year, and if his progress is coming along he might get a chance to play next year, too, for Orange County SC. Even so, he’ll likely have more growth ahead, both literally and figuratively, and if that all progresses properly, he could potentially be a starter for the future. For now, it was a matter of getting used to the professional life and honing his game, and that’s absolutely reasonable.
Rafael Espinoza: The 17-year-old was another innovative signing for Orange County SC, as he joined the outfit in August as the club’s first-ever academy signing. What this meant was he was eligible to play in USL games for the first team, while keeping his college eligibility. The Orange County native was committed to UC Irvine, and all indications are he’s on track to join them officially in January.
Espinoza, billed as a forward, is a product of Slammers FC, who of course have a partnership with LAFC on the girls’ side. In this case, the signings of Cervantes and Espinoza are reflective of Orange County SC’s approach to the academy system. Instead of building their own academy and trying to build it in competition with the local programs, several of which are national powerhouses, they have opted to foster cooperation with those programs, as a way to find a pipeline to the pro game for academies without a pro team at the top of their structure. Getting a player each from Pateadores and Slammers FC is a solid strategy.
In the end, Espinoza made the bench once for Orange County SC, and did not play any minutes. The signing may have been done to get another player in the ranks for training, to build a relationship with Espinoza for the future, or some other reason. Either way, we may see this player again in the future with Orange County SC.
Zach Kobayashi: The midfielder was the big surprise this season in not featuring. He took awhile to hit his stride in his first season with OCSC, in 2017, but ended the season hot, and looked like a player who could potentially have a breakout season this year.
Instead, he never played in a competitive game. The Southern California native stayed with the team throughout the season, and mentioned an injury in the summer. USL teams are typically not at all interested in giving out injury information of any kind, and so it’s unclear how much of Kobayashi’s absence from the field was due to his health and how much was coach Braeden Cloutier’s choice. Again, he ended the season looking really strong, and Cloutier used nearly his entire squad over the course of the 38-game campaign, so it seems to indicate health probably played a role in no playing time.
To Kobayashi’s credit, he was one of two players (alongside Aodhan Quinn) on Orange County SC to commit for the Playing For Pride fundraiser, which was intended to raise money and awareness for LGBTQ rights during LGBTQ+ Pride Month. Kobayashi even pledged to match Quinn’s donations, which is especially impressive considering USL players don’t exactly make a fortune themselves, and the donations were usually based on performance on the field and Kobayashi said he was injured at the time on his Twitter account.
All in all, I liked what I saw in 2017. I hope to see Kobayashi play again. We’ll see what happens.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!