Orange County SC announced on Thursday they have signed 17-year-old Rafael Espinoza to an academy contract for the remainder of the 2018 season.
Academy contracts in USL are special deals that allow college-bound players to play for the pro team for a limited time while still maintaining their eligibility for NCAA soccer. This is Orange County’s first foray into this kind of deal, as Espinoza joins from local academy powerhouse Slammers FC. This deal seems to indicate the promised pipeline for local prospects that Orange County SC identified as their approach last offseason, in building strong links to existing academies in the area and creating non-exclusive partnerships to give those programs a path to the pro game.
Espinoza will be part of OCSC until he joins UC Irvine in January, according to the team’s release on the signing.
“Rafael is a very talented young player from Orange County that has a great future ahead of him. As our first-ever USL Academy player signee, he will be in a professional environment that will maximize his development and allow him to learn on a daily basis from top professional coaches and players”, said general manager & EVP Oliver Wyss in a team statement.
“I’ve known about him for several years and know what a talented young player he is,” said head coach Braeden Cloutier. “This is going to be a great experience for him to work in a competitive professional environment and see if he truly has what it takes to become a professional soccer player.”
Espinoza’s position was not identified in the release, but expect the youngster to be depth as Orange County look to continue their stellar form to close out the 2018 USL regular season, with their next game coming on the road on Wednesday at Portland Timbers 2.
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