The fight over the future of Championship Soccer Stadium in Irvine appears to have kicked off in a major way, as Orange County SC announced on Friday they are facing a fight to remain in the Orange County Great Park venue. They allege the LA Galaxy organization has submitted a proposal to undercut Orange County SC’s presence starting in 2023 that would evict the defending USL Championship title-holders.
Orange County SC revealed a proposal by the Galaxy organization to the City of Irvine, which owns the stadium, to take over as the tenant of Championship Soccer Stadium beginning in 2023, presumably for the Galaxy’s reserve team to call home, after they move to MLS Next Pro, the new third-tier professional league. The difference, according to OCSC, is the new proposal would be for exclusive tenancy — in other words evicting Orange County SC from the stadium they’ve called home since 2017, as well as any other adult teams that currently use the venue, which includes NISA outfit California United Strikers FC.
“Our club is built in Irvine, 100% Orange County proud and now under attack. We are stunned and extremely disappointed by yesterday’s news that the city could undo all the great work we have done in soccer and in the local community in Orange County,” OCSC owner James Keston said in the team’s release. “OCSC has called Championship Soccer Stadium home for the past five years. It is where fans have come together to watch our team represent their community, where we have won trophies, and where local players have realized their dreams as they have risen from the academy to the pros and on to some of the largest clubs in the world.”
The alleged proposal from the Galaxy undercuts Orange County SC’s own effort to renew their tenancy agreement with the City of Irvine for 2023 and beyond, which interim president of business operations Dan Rutstein told Angels on Parade during an interview on Saturday was something they were in the process of doing.
“We love Orange County Soccer Club playing in the Great Park,” Rutstein said. “We love that stadium, are fans of that stadium. We want to keep playing there and that has been something that we’ve been talking about with the city, on and off frankly since we moved there, but with a lot more urgency over the past year as following our [league title] victory the club started growing, the number of fans go[ing] there and just trying to do more with the stadium. As we build our club, we build our brand and we build our community in Orange County.”
Rutstein explained the process to renew OCSC’s lease agreement for Championship Soccer Stadium through an official Request For Proposal with the City of Irvine — with no attendant desire to play there exclusively, as they want to share the ground with local teams — then seemed to hit a wall recently.
“And then, those discussions weren’t really going anywhere. We weren’t sort of getting responses even to our official RFP. And then out of left field, this Galaxy proposal appears,” Rutstein said.
Put simply, Orange County SC’s primary complaint about the alleged proposal from the Galaxy organization is that it aims for exclusivity, meaning OCSC would be without a venue altogether for the 2023 season if the Galaxy get what they are seeking. Furthermore, if Orange County or another local ownership group plan to launch a women’s professional team, something the club has teased they are interested in doing, with the USL Super League set to launch in 2023, they would also have to find another venue, which could delay or scrap such plans altogether.
By way of justifying their case to continue to play at Orange County Great Park, OCSC can cite an extensive, years-long effort to plant roots in the Irvine community. In addition to playing in Irvine dating back to 2014, when Keston bought the club in 2016 they soon rebranded as Orange County SC and have worked extensively over the past five years to be a legitimate member of the community.
“We’re continuing to grow,” said Rutstein. “And that is about people knowing who we are as a team because of what we achieve on the field and the big transfers and putting Orange County soccer on the map for the club but also where our players are going next. But then there’s also that huge part of the community work that we do. Literally sponsored by the hospital group [Hoag]. We launched our kit last year using health care workers. We have our community corner. We have events with nonprofits all the time. Today’s game is our community night, where nonprofits locally are coming in and there’ll be a halftime check with a chance for the nonprofit who brought in the most fans to the stadium to win a significant amount of money. We do this sort of stuff all the time.”
Attendance is up significantly this season, over 30 percent, and it does appear the club’s roots to the community over time run wide and deep.
“We are big proponents of all of that and doing more and our message is clear and we’re growing as a club. We just want to be given a home to do it,” Rutstein added.
Perhaps bolstering Orange County SC’s claims, they have the USL Championship on board in their cause to keep Championship Soccer Stadium their home.
“The USL is disappointed by the news that the City of Irvine would even consider terminating Orange County SC’s tenancy at Championship Soccer Stadium in Great Park and provide exclusive use to the LA Galaxy’s developmental team. In response, we are working closely with OCSC to explore legal and contractual options,” said Jake Edwards, President of the United Soccer League, in OCSC’s statement.
What complicates the picture perhaps further — and may give the USL heft in getting involved — is the Galaxy’s reserve team, LA Galaxy II, currently play in the USL Championship, and could be subject to sanctions based on this move. But this is the final season in that league for the club, who are expected to move essentially wholesale to MLS Next Pro, which as its name implies, is owned and operated by MLS.
A request for comment on the matter to the Galaxy on Saturday went unanswered as of publication.
Rutstein stressed the situation is ongoing and the next big step is coming on Tuesday, when the Galaxy’s proposal is scheduled to be discussed during an Irvine City Council hearing. The hearing is scheduled to begin at 4 pm and fans interested in attending to support OCSC are encouraged to wear Orange County SC gear and support the club. In addition, there is a landing page for the actions you can take to support Orange County SC, so be sure to visit that if you would like to constructively speak your mind on the matter.
“We want this to be a community ground,” Rutstein emphasized, as OCSC really kick off the fight to keep their venue.
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