Orange County SC may be latecomers to the USL Championship fold in 2021, the final team in the league to begin their season, Sunday afternoon when they take on Tacoma Defiance on the road.
They hope the wait will be worth it, but leaders at the club aren’t concerned with the staggered start to the season.
“We just looked at it [like] any other schedule, any other league,” OCSC head coach Braeden Cloutier told reporters during the club’s media day on Friday. “[With] league games coming up we obviously started our preseason a little bit later than everybody else but we’ve put in our due diligence here in the last six-to-seven weeks so I think we’re well prepared. We’re not looking in the rearview mirrors, looking at anybody else within the league and what they’ve been doing, but we’re just looking to focus on ourselves and the upcoming games. It’s obviously this weekend in Tacoma and then our home opener next weekend against Sacramento.
“Yeah, it might load up the games in the in the middle of the schedule, obviously a lot of midweek games, but I think we’ve done a really good job of putting together a competitive roster that now we have depth and competition within the squad that everybody’s going to get opportunities.”
If you’ve followed Orange County SC for any length of time, the goal coming into each season is the same. After missing the playoffs last season in a “group of death,” that focus has sharpened.
“We’re coming off a season last year, we obviously all felt, we want to do better. Every year, the Orange County Soccer Club wants to win the USL Championship,” said GM Oliver Wyss.
“We believe we have the team, we have the players, we have the technical staff. We have a great front office we have an organization that is fully aligned from our ownership group, from James Keston to everybody else involved in the organization, and we’re just really excited to get going,” Wyss added.
Turnover is common in the USL Championship year to year, but Orange County have brought in 14 newcomers this season. Many of them have experience in the USL Championship or abroad, and the sense that OCSC is going for the title is tangible.
One player returning after missing nearly all of the 2020 season is forward Thomas Enevoldsen. Heading into his fourth season in the league, he’s seen the growth internally and externally.
“I mean the new teams coming in, there are more fans in the stadium and the quality also is getting better, I see that on our squad. I mean the squad we have now is better than the one that won the Western Conference in 2018. So, I feel the quality is getting better,” Enevoldsen said.
For Cloutier, whose history with the club stretches back even further, the transformation of Orange County SC and the USL Championship has been even more stark.
“I think from the first day that I came to this club, I think it was seven or eight years ago, it was a little bit more of a semi-professional league, a little bit more like a glorified men’s league where now it’s a fully established league,” Cloutier said. “And I think just over the last three, four years is definitely the talent, the players that we’ve attracted and the players that we brought in here within this club itself has elevated the level to another level, where I think this league is not too far off from where even the first teams in the MLS are. And I think the competition within the league itself is gonna just continue to grow.”
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