Braeden Cloutier was handed the reins of Orange County SC in 2018 after serving as an assistant coach, and his debut campaign couldn’t have gone much better. Orange County finished the regular season atop the Western Conference for the second time in club history, and then went onto their best finish in the USL Cup playoffs, getting to the Western Conference final before ultimately falling one game short of the title match.
Short of actually winning the championship, it was about as good a season as you can hope for, and OCSC played exciting soccer, with several blowout wins and multiple scorers. All in all, it was a great season.
So what next? Recharge in the offseason and look to aim even higher in the next season. Orange County SC open the 2019 USL Championship regular season on Saturday. Let’s take a look at some of the key points heading into the season.
What’s new for 2019?
As you might expect for a team that is coming off their best season to date, Orange County have kept much in place for the new year. Cloutier is going nowhere, USL MVP finalist Aodhan Quinn is back, as are another 10 holdovers on the roster. In a league like the USL Championship, where roster churn is significant, and Orange County’s track record, this is by far the most continuity the roster has displayed in the time we’ve been covering them closely.
Still, with 11 returning players that leaves plenty of room for newcomers. Jerry van Wolfgang, who played for OCSC in 2017 before moving to Reno 1868 last year, returns to Southern California, while most of the new signings have been players who are locals or have local ties.
Two bigger names signed is English duo Harry Forrester, who played at one point for Scottish giant Rangers, and Liam Trotter, who played for Bolton. Experienced Brits have a long tradition in American soccer, but the track record has been mixed. We’ll see if these two can elevate Orange County in 2019.
The biggest departure is certainly leading scorer Thomas Enevoldsen, who was just back of the USL Golden Boot and proved to be a fantastic facilitator in addition to his scoring exploits. He’s signed with Indy Eleven, and while much of the attack around him last year is returning to OC, there is a concern that the Dane’s departure could prove costly.
There are questions about Orange County’s center of defense coming into the season, with Premier League veteran Jos Hooiveld retiring and Thomas Juel-Nielsen moving on in the offseason. In fact, as of the day before the season, the team appears to have just one center back, Walker Hume, on the roster. There should be news on that front, but it appears to be a work in progress, at least from the outside.
How does this team play?
Last season, Orange County were one of better teams to watch in the USL Western Conference, capable of balancing attack and defense, but with considerable firepower leading to many goals. While the standard of play still varies considerably as the USL Championship has exploded in size the last six years, the overall quality has jumped, and if OCSC play in the same style this year, you’ll see plenty of fundamentals covered, with some flair and plenty of attacking teamwork on display.
What are the expectations for 2019?
Every year, it’s fair to enter the season with somewhat reset expectations, as the aforementioned major roster changes make it hard to project what could happen. Add to that the sheer numbers, with 36 teams in the full league and 18 in the Western Conference. 10 from each conference will make the playoffs, which is absolutely the minimum expectation for Orange County SC this year, and while we can’t take for granted a table-topping season once again, the internal goal is to win a championship, and if they can put together a quality regular season, there’s no reason to discount them from making a push to land their first-ever title.
Where can I watch Orange County SC’s games?
If you live in the vicinity, Orange County SC play their home games again this year at Championship Soccer Stadium, located at Orange County Great Park in Irvine. It’s a great venue, tickets are affordable and it’s family-friendly while also serving alcohol.
If you can’t get to the games or the team is on the road, you can watch their games on ESPN+, along with the rest of the USL Championship and USL League One for 2019.
When do they start play?
The season kicks off on Saturday, as Orange County SC will be on the road against Reno 1868 FC. Both teams are expected to be contenders this season, so it should be a good one. The game kicks off at 2 pm PT, and again, it will be streamed on ESPN+.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!