Orange County SC turned to a familiar face this past offseason in hiring a new head coach, when they tapped Braeden Cloutier for the job. Cloutier had been assistant coach at the club for the previous three seasons, and was getting an opportunity to make the step up.
Cloutier is new to head coaching at the professional level, but that’s been the case for nearly every manager at this club, and something that isn’t unusual at the USL level.
Angels on Parade talked to Cloutier about his transition to coaching, his approach and more in an exclusive interview last week.
“I think the transition has been relatively smooth,” Cloutier said. “I’ve been with the club now...this is my fourth year, so I’ve seen not only the growth of the USL but the evolution of our club itself, from day one to where it is now.
“Definitely this last offseason was a transition for me, becoming head coach. I’ve had my own thoughts and ideas and now I get to implement it and impose my style and my philosophy, and ultimately put together a team that hopefully is going to be successful.”
OCSC had their first chance to show their work in the offseason last week in their season opener, a 1-1 draw against Phoenix Rising FC, a result that was perhaps a bit surprising around the league because of the hype the Arizona team have gotten for the past year.
When it comes to the style Cloutier wants to implement, the manager wants to model his team’s game on two of the most exciting teams in the world at the moment.
“We’re going to be a possession-based team. We want to play attractive, we want to be on the front foot. I’ve told people — if you want to look at other teams around the world, [I want] a combination like Liverpool and like Tottenham as well. We want to be on the front foot. We want to try and play out of the back. And I think we’ve done a really good job of profiling the type of players we want to bring in for the system and style of play,” he said.
One of the interesting things Cloutier explained about USL is what he called the “four windows of opportunity” in identifying and signing players ahead of a season, something that may be rather unique to the league.
“When you look within the league, there’s four windows of opportunity in the offseason when it comes to picking and signing players,” Cloutier explained. “With the evolution of the league itself and how much more difficult it has become to sign players, we targeted the first couple signings with Christian Duke and Aodhan Quinn basically right after the season.
“So you look after the best USL players out there, and then the next window becomes the college profiles, and then the next window becomes the international window. And then the next one is you look at guys who either got drafted from the combine or experienced MLS players who, for some reason, either get released or in our case a couple guys got loaned to us. It’s a process, we’ve been patient through the process, but I think the team itself is well balanced positionally, from the different ages, and ultimately I think the big thing in the USL is it’s trying to establish consistency. The successful teams are the ones that are consistent.”
As someone who’s been working in USL for several years, Cloutier has seen the radical transformation of the league in a short span of time. He discussed the impact of ambition rising throughout the league, and how that could have reverberations in one competition in particular.
“When I first got into the league four years ago, it was [Division III] at the time, and you know, smaller ownership groups, smaller markets and it served its purpose. But I think with the evolution of the MLS2 teams coming into the league, it actually raised the profile, and I think now, with the ownership groups that have come into the league in the last two years, it’s definitely elevated the league itself to a much, much higher level and a much higher standard, and you can definitely see by the type of players coming into our league now. I know [FC] Cincinnati had a good run last year in the Open Cup — I definitely think a lot more USL teams are going to surprise MLS teams when we get into the Open Cup, for sure.”
Perhaps an obligatory question for a coach at the start of a season is what the expectations are. While Cloutier indicated the organization’s goals are lofty this season, he also preached patience in bringing together a squad that currently features 16 newcomers.
“Ultimately, for everybody [the primary goal of the season] should be a championship, right? So that’s definitely our goal, and from day one that’s the target we’re looking for.
“Realistically we’re looking for a Top 4 finish. We know it’s a marathon, not a sprint. With any new team, you look at us, it’s almost like an expansion team in MLS. Literally, we’ve only had four or five returning players and we had to fill the rest of the squad with a lot of different personalities and characters, and it’s going to take a little time to jell. I think we’ve done a good job in the preseason of getting the players acclimated to how we want to play. Look, Orange County’s a nice place to live, it’s definitely not cold or anything like that, so that transition is probably easier for a lot of players, especially international players, but it does still take time for the cohesiveness and the team to jell.
“In the first couple of months it’s going to take some time, but over the course of the season — like I said, it’s a marathon — I think a Top 4 finish is exactly where we want to be, and ultimately to win a championship.”
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