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Behind Danny Crisostomo’s journey from unknown trialist to Orange County SC starter

Getting to know midfielder in exclusive interview.

Courtesy of Orange County SC

Danny Crisostomo wasn’t supposed to be an Orange County SC player.

The midfielder, now in his second season at OCSC, was originally headed to another USL Championship club after playing NCAA soccer at UC Irvine.

“[I was] unlucky to go to the [MLS] draft, it just wasn’t meant to be or wasn’t good enough, whatever it is,” Crisostomo told Angels on Parade recently in an exclusive interview. “Then I went to the San Jose Earthquakes combine. And from there, Reno [1868 FC] talked to me. And they offered me to go to preseason, and it seemed pretty solid, that if I were to go, I would most likely be offered something, obviously nothing’s guaranteed. And so I was waiting to go, I already bought my plane ticket.

“While I was waiting to go, my head coach in college contacted me and said ‘Hey, Orange County, they’re having a tryout. If you want to go,’ I was like ‘Okay, might as well stay fit,’ I was pretty much set on Reno, and then went to Orange County and I liked it. I liked the level it was at, I liked the players I was with, I got lucky to earn a spot right at the start of preseason, and my rookie year was good,” he continued.

In fact, the club had no plans to add Crisostomo, with head coach Braeden Cloutier admitting the player forced their hand based on his tryout.

“He came into our preseason last year really having no chance of making the team, because at the time my midfield was extremely deep,” Cloutier told Angels on Parade. “But he came in and he proved himself, next thing you know he got a contract and he started our season opener last year. It speaks volumes about the type of player he is and the type of kid he is and his work ethic and his dedication to the game.”

The 23-year-old, the son of Peruvian immigrants, was born in San Francisco but grew up in Chino, one of many Orange County SC players to grow up in Southern California, a stated mission of the club in recent years.

Playing college soccer in Irvine helped put Crisostomo on OCSC’s radar, while the player said the NCAA environment helped push him to develop as a player.

“My first year at UCI, you know, just getting used to college, getting used to the season, I didn’t really start but I would usually come in every game. It was a very different environment, coming from coaches that loved me, that enjoyed me, that wanted me to play straight away to somewhere where you know now, people have already established themselves in the team. The coach already has this group of guys, I had to break myself into the team. So, my sophomore year, then that’s when I started and ever since that pretty much kept starting games and it was a great experience.

“Right after my sophomore season, pretty much the whole coaching staff got fired and we got a whole new coaching staff with Yossi [Raz] as the head coach and he completely changed the way I thought about the game and he really pushed me to become a better player. Right after college, we had a great year [my senior season], I finished with Big West Midfielder of the Year [award].”

Crisostomo was a quick study his rookie year in 2019 with OCSC, getting plenty of playing time early in the season. But with the overall team’s results inconsistent, Cloutier opted to make adjustments, and Crisostomo admitted it was hard to hit the bench at first.

“It was just very frustrating because I was used to playing every minute, and I felt like I was doing well. And then all of a sudden from one game to the next I didn’t play. The coaches just believed that I wasn’t performing well enough in practice or maybe even the game and whatever it is. In the beginning I was very angry, frustrated,” he said.

But after stewing on it, the player decided to turn his benching into an opportunity.

“For maybe two weeks I was like, I don’t agree with it, and I sat down, was thinking about it and you know what, I’m handling this the wrong way,” he explained. “I have to listen to their opinion, because they’re my coaches and they’re the ones that are supposed to guide us. I started running more, during practice extra runs, whatever extra work I could do in practice, whatever extra work I could do out of practice, and I changed my whole mentality and I was more positive. When my opportunity comes I’m gonna be ready. When the coaches feel I’m ready again I’m going to be prepared. And after three, four games, they put me in, I did well, they felt more comfortable.”

In hindsight, Crisostomo encountered a time-honored tradition for first-year pros.

“We had a talk at the end of the season, l went through a slump, which every college player goes through, but a lot of them don’t dig themselves out, and [they said I] did very well, so that was a positive note for me to learn mentally because I was getting down on myself when I shouldn’t have,” he said. “Physically, I just knew that I had to improve myself, so I had to stay motivated in order to push my body to do more. That’s kind of what it was like, but it was a good positive note to end the season on, moving into my second year.”

Cloutier credits Crisostomo for improving himself in the offseason.

“Going into this last offseason, he was one of the first players, every single day, in our offseason program, to show up, along with Aodhan Quinn and those guys, Michael Orozco, to come out and work out in the offseason,” the manager said. “It wasn’t mandatory, it was optional, but he was always there and he put in a lot of work on the field and in the gym as well. So going into this preseason it was definitely a goal of his, we had individual meetings with the players, and I knew it was a goal of his to step up his game to the next level and become not a rookie but now an impact player and somebody that was going to contribute week in and week out. He excelled in the preseason, he did very well. He was one of the fittest guys, when we did our testing, which speaks volumes once again to his commitment and his work ethic.”

In Orange County SC’s season opener on March 6, at home against El Paso Locomotive, Crisostomo was thrown into a new challenge, starting as the playmaker in Cloutier’s midfield diamond.

“Coming up to pretty much the week prior to the game, we kind of already knew that I was going to play the 10 and it was a position that I haven’t played since [I was in youth soccer]. It’s very weird training in that spot, very different, I’m more used to the 8 or the 6, getting on the ball a little more. So I was a little nervous and a little frustrated, because I wasn’t getting the ball where I wanted to in training, but I was pretty excited with the home opener in general. Either I sit there and I whine about the position that I’m playing or I just go ahead and do it. I wanted to pretty much work hard defensively in that position as well, because I know how frustrating it is if someone doesn’t in that position,” he quipped.

For his part, Cloutier was confident in Crisostomo in a new situation.

“We tried a few different players in that position and we just thought going into that game with Danny’s versatility and his energy and his effort we were going to give him a shot as a [No.] 10 and I thought for somebody who’s never played a professional game at that position, I thought he did very, very well.”

Looking ahead, when soccer returns to action, Crisostomo says his goals this season are simple — play as much as possible, help the team out, and win games.

Beyond that, he wants to get a shot at a higher level someday.

“In regards to the future. I would definitely want to play first division in a league somewhere, MLS, Mexico, you name it,” he said. “Of course every player’s dream is to play in the highest level that they can go to and hopefully one day I can get there. And that’s my goal, pretty much, nowhere specific teamwise or anything like that. Just want to play first-division soccer.”

Given his path from a trialist with seemingly no hope of earning a contract in Orange County to a player who continues improving just over a year into his pro career, you wouldn’t count Crisostomo out of that aim to playing in the top flight one day.

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