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Orange County SC 2018 USL season preview

Can they make it the best season ever?

Oscar Sorto is one of the returning players for Orange County SC in 2018. Liza Rosales (Courtesy of Orange County SC)

Orange County SC open the 2018 USL regular season on Saturday, when they host Phoenix Rising FC. If you’re wondering who Orange County are and what their prospects are for the upcoming season, we’ll give you a crash course here.

Who owns Orange County SC? They’re LAFC’s team, right?

Ok, first things first: Orange County SC is independently owned, by local businessman James Keston. There’s a misconception that Los Angeles Football Club own them, but that’s wrong. LAFC is Orange County’s MLS affiliate, so there’s a relationship, but OC do their own thing because they are not an “MLS2” team.

How long have they been around?

Another common question, Orange County SC have been playing in USL since 2011. They were the first western team in the league, helping to pave the way for the era of massive expansion in the league, to the point that they’re now up to 33 teams in the U.S. and Canada.

Courtesy of Orange County SC

Prior to the 2017 season, Orange County SC were called the Orange County Blues FC. Before that, they were called the Los Angeles Blues. They’ve had a few identities over the years, but they seem to have settled on a brand and look that should suit them for the long haul.

Where do they play?

Orange County SC play in a new stadium located at Orange County Great Park in Irvine. Dubbed “Champions Soccer Stadium,” the venue is a permanent, purpose-built structure, with actual facilities and plenty of seating.

The team opened the stadium last summer, after spending roughly a third of the season in a temporary pop-up stadium at the Great Park. With the team settled and able to play a full season there, the leap forward compared to previous years’ venues (before Great Park, the team played at UC Irvine’s very spartan field) raises the professionalism around the team and should offer a far more attractive product, on and off the field.

Who’s their coach?

Orange County SC have a new head coach, Braeden Cloutier. The Kansas native played soccer for nearly 20 years, including stints in MLS with the MetroStars, San Jose Clash and New England Revolution. He also played for current USL side Charleston Battery, and played indoor pro soccer extensively.

This is Cloutier’s first pro head coaching job, but he’s been assistant coach with OC since 2015. So this is an internal promotion, and we’ll see how things go with him at the helm for the first time.

Who plays for Orange County SC?

Great question! The team is still in progress, but there are a handful of returning players from last year (Richard Chaplow, Zach Kobayashi, Ami Pineda, Oscar Sorto, Casey Beyers, Walker Hume), some players brought in with plenty of USL experience (Nansel Selbol, Noah Powder, Christian Duke, Aodhan Quinn, Michael Seaton) a few international imports (Thomas Enevoldsen, Thomas Juel-Nielsen, Kontor Awusu-Ansah) and so far a few MLS loanees (Alex Crognale, Mark Segbers, Andre Rawls).

Given LAFC is Orange County’s MLS affiliate, will they be sending players over on loan? Seems pretty obvious they will, but as for the opening weekend, we’ll see if there are any players listed on the available roster.

What are OC’s prospects for 2018?

Another great question. This one is too hard to call coming in with an almost entirely new roster and a new head coach (even if there’s continuity in the coaching staff). Add to that the increased ambition across USL, especially the past two years, and handicapping a team’s prospects coming in is tricky.

Last year, Orange County failed to reach the playoffs for the first time in three seasons, falling just short. The reasons for that were pretty clear: Injuries and suspensions in the summer exposed the team’s lack of depth in a few key spots, and the opening of the permanent stadium in the late summer led to the schedule being backloaded, and OC could not pick up many wins in their many, many games in hand on the Western Conference competition.

This season? They won’t have the wonky schedule this time around, so that issue is resolved. As for depth? The nature of USL in general is that really no team is particularly deep, but time will tell if Orange County have enough to make the playoffs. The group looks to be a mix of youth and experience, with experience at USL and higher levels along with a few prospects. On paper, that looks like a good formula, but we’ll see how the group actually plays in competitive games.

And heading into a long season, the first goal has to be to reach the playoffs. The top eight teams in the 17-team Western Conference will qualify this season, so teams have to finish better than top half to make it. From there? Any team that gets in the postseason has a chance at USL Cup. We’ll see if Orange County SC will be back in the mix this season as the campaign progresses.

What do you think? Leave a comment below!