Michael Orozco has played professionally in two countries for six clubs in a career dating back to 2006, and represented the United States 29 times at senior level.
Now 35, Orozco has been the captain of Orange County SC since his arrival at the club in 2019, and the defender is seeking something he’s yet to attain in his club career: A league title.
Ahead of Sunday’s 2021 USL Championship Final between OCSC and the Tampa Bay Rowdies, Orozco spoke to reporters.
What was notable was his insistence that even with the title chase, a major role he embraces is mentoring the younger prospects on the squad.
“I think first of all we know that there’s a lot of development out here in Orange County. And as you guys can see the result with Kobi [Henry] being on the U-20 national team. That’s just a stepping stone to what the project or the pathway is and my role on the pitch, mentoring guide him that he can be the next generation of U.S. Soccer,” Orozco said on Wednesday. “And obviously for myself it’s just pushing every day, trying to go for that championship, trying to lead the team. And it’s what’s exciting about the sport that you can take a lot of roles and that pressure and it’s about who can actually lead on the 18 or guide them to the way to get a championship and that’s where we’re at today. We’re going for this big championship and everyone’s involved in it’s not just me, it’s just a little piece to the puzzle.”
Orozco’s connection to the area is obvious, as he grew up in Orange County himself. But while he’s always tried to serve as a mentor for the youngsters, he’s also continuing to get the job done on the field, too.
Orange County have allowed one goal in three playoff games this year in the road to the title game, and Orozco has played a surprising array of positions for OCSC in 2021: Not only his customary center back position, but also central midfield, right back and left back.
Head coach Richard Chaplow has opted to keep things pretty consistent and has primarily played Orozco back at center back since taking over in August, and Orozco credited his coach with raising the mentality to help them make the run to the Final.
“I think he changed a lot, the mentality part, the work that they do every day that you train like you’re going to play, and not letting any details skip,” Orozco said. “That’s why the team today fights and is very compact and has one goal in mind, which is winning every game. We work you like if it’s the last minute there is in our lives or in our game. So to be honest, that changed a lot and today we talked about championship and that’s all there is and it’s because of the mentality that we’re very strong on it. The gaffer — that’s what he wants to be referred to — the gaffer changed that culture, like he says, he played at the highest level as well.”
While Orozco is probably the biggest name on Orange County SC to a North American audience, he thinks the team does not get enough respect around the USL Championship.
“To be honest, I feel a little bit of a disrespect because the team has been putting in great performances and we were No. 2 in our conference and there’s great players, great talent in terms of vets, in terms of the youth and not being on either the A [All-League] Team or the B [All-League] Team, I don’t think it’s fair,” Orozco said.
Having said that, with that elusive title in sight, for player and club, Orozco is going to focus on doing the work.
“We are what we are because of the hard work and we don’t depend on anybody. We depend on ourselves. And we have, like I said, one thing in mind, which is the championship and then obviously we’ll get some kind of credit but it’s just to ourselves and our families and everybody that’s been supporting us since day one. I can’t go out and expect everyone to be like, ‘These guys are Phoenix, or these guys are San Diego or Tampa’ or anything like that. Orange County’s just Orange County, all the time is always going to fight, Orange County’s always going to put their name, and raise their hand if you get the nods or not. We’re just going to work and that’s why we’re in the final this season.
“This is just the beginning of what we’re capable of doing,” he added.
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