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Orange County SC 2022 season preview

Can champs defend their title?

We might as well use this heartwarming photo at least one more time.
Matt May/Tampa Bay Rowdies

Orange County SC have spent most of the last five years in and around contender status and in 2021, they reached the summit, winning the USL Championship league title off the back of a blistering postseason run. Watching the league’s first West Coast team win their first title sure was sweet, but the offseason is now over and OCSC will be back at it for the 2022 campaign, starting on Saturday when they hit the road to take on Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC. Before that, let’s gear up for the season ahead:

Orange County SC: 2021 record (15W-10L-7D, 2nd place in Pacific Division, USL Championship title winners)

For all of the success that came in the end of the 2021 season, the road was not necessarily smooth. Starting the season with a penchant for scoring early and closing up shop in the back, that grinding approach started to wear down midseason. By August, head coach Braeden Cloutier was fired, and it looked like OCSC may be at risk of missing the playoffs in a stacked division. But Richard Chaplow took over as head coach, made a few tweaks in the team’s approach, and they were red-hot down the stretch. Holding firm in penalty shootout wins in the playoffs, few believed Orange County could win the title game in Tampa, but they put on a clinic against the Tampa Bay Rowdies and came home deserved champions. Now time to replicate that feat.

2022 outlook

Head coach: Richard Chaplow (first full season)

Key arrivals: Erick “Cubo” Torres, Danny Acosta, Daniel Pedersen, Tony Rocha, Kevin Partida

Key departures: Kevin Alston, Dillon Powers, Eric Calvillo, Thomas Enevoldsen

OCSC bring back 12 members of their title-winning side, a pretty good number in a league where roster churn is still pretty common every offseason. While they did lose some notable players, including the midfield tandem of Powers and Calvillo, who raised the team’s level substantially at the position, and the veteran knowhow of Alston, they brought in a number of splash signings for 2022, headlined by former Liga MX and MLS striker Cubo Torres. If he can find his footing at the USL Championship level, Torres will take some of the pressure off star forward Ronaldo Damus and help diversify the attack. As is customary for this club, the additions this season have been a combination of young prospects, those with experience stateside, and European imports. If the newcomers can hit the ground running, there’s every reason to believe OCSC are contenders again.

I think the x-factor is the target that will be on Orange County’s back this year. For better or worse, this team is pretty much constantly written off nationally, even if they’ve been one of the strongest and most consistent teams over a number of years. But as the defending champs, they aren’t likely to get too many opponents resting on their laurels. OCSC will have to be on the ball every matchday or they may find some real adversity. And the margins can be razor-thin in this league, so bring your best or else.

Player to watch: Ronaldo Damus

We saw in the last couple playoff games that teams were keying in on Damus, considering he scored nearly all of Orange County’s goals, and yet he could still score with a pack of defenders around him anyway. That’s great when it happens, but it’s no guarantee that teams won’t simply opt to man-mark Damus moving forward. That’s why it makes sense to bring in Torres, and Sean “Ugo” Okoli returning also diversifies the attack. Still, until we see another top scorer on the team, Damus remains the man, and if he can hit the highs in his game he looks capable of doing, he should be a candidate to win the Golden Boot in the league this season. If he does, you can be sure there will be plenty of eyes on him and this team.

Why you should watch in 2022

Following up a title-winning season is certainly not easy, and the way OCSC did it, somewhat taking everyone by surprise, was particularly sweet. It will be hard to stay atop the mountain and there’s only been one repeat champion in the last decade. But Orange County’s first goal will be to make the playoffs again this year, and from there see what happens. They enter the season expected to reach the playoffs, and the higher their seed, the more they can control their destiny in the postseason. The West and the league are both stacked with good teams, but Orange County SC know they can do it. It’s going to be fun to watch them try to do it again.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.