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Orange County SC get ‘guarantee’ of return to Championship Soccer Stadium in 2023

With local and national support, USL Championship champs keep their home.

Courtesy of Orange County SC

Orange County SC had been locked in a battle over their home dating back to 2017, Championship Soccer Stadium at Orange County Great Park in Irvine, for the past few weeks, but on Tuesday, they received good news, when the Irvine City Council voted unanimously to extend the memorandum of understanding with OCSC for 2023, and the club will continue to play home games there next year.

The agreement includes a few key revisions, including a vital clause in which neither side can unilaterally terminate the agreement without cause. Considering prior reporting and public comments from some members of Irvine’s city government seemed to threaten to use such a maneuver to evict Orange County SC and other tenants from Championship Soccer Stadium, in favor of an exclusive agreement with the LA Galaxy for their reserve team to play there starting next year, that clause was not a mere throwaway.

“We went into that meeting with one real request, which is we wanted certainty, we wanted a guarantee that Orange County soccer club could play at Championship Soccer Stadium next year, and we came out of the meeting with a guarantee that Orange County soccer club can play at Championship Soccer Stadium next year,” said Orange County SC interim president of business operations Dan Rutstein, in an interview with Angels on Parade on Wednesday.

While this victory is for 2023, it comes with a pledge for both sides to have a more comprehensive discussion for working together beyond next year, and for the club and City to work together to ensure the facility remains shared and includes community use.

“Community use can mean slightly different things to different people,” said Rutstein. “From our point of view, obviously, we feel we’re a big part of the community in terms of the work that we do with nonprofits.”

“If people come and use the field on the Friday before a game, on the Sunday after a game — we had one game last year where we came off the field and we hadn’t even left the stadium yet, and there was a youth club final being played on the on the pitch, and we’re fine with that.

“We know it’s not our stadium, it’s our home, but it’s the council stadium, and they can do what they like with it,” he added. “So obviously we want to be able to play our games on a playing surface befitting of the USL and we’ve been lucky to be able to do that and the Council staff have been fantastic at helping provide us a facility of the quality that we need, but we want to share it. We’ve never thought exclusivity. We want people to use that stadium beyond just our team. We want to be part of that community.”

Orange County SC are the defending USL Championship title-holders, and they celebrated their first-ever full sellout at Championship Soccer Stadium last weekend against — perhaps not coincidentally, LA Galaxy II — and Rutstein projects more sellouts to come, “because people nearly lost the club, nearly lost the venue and now they’ve got it back again and I think people are going to be excited to come back.” With several hundred season ticket deposits for 2023 already, according to the club, they expect more season ticket purchases for next year in the days and weeks ahead.

But while the effort to keep OCSC at Championship Soccer Stadium included many efforts, both in public and behind the scenes, the club gratefully acknowledge the public pressure and efforts of fans, locally and nationally, to turn the tide in their favor.

“The outpouring of support we’ve seen from our fans, from fans of our traditional rivals in teams like San Diego and Phoenix, fans whose clubs who have suffered some kind of non-soccer difficulty, like Detroit and like Columbus. There’s been support from fans across the nation; we found out the other day while playing a game against Memphis that the head coach of that team [Ben Pirmann] had written a letter of support to us for the previous council meeting,” Rutstein said.

“The outpouring of support and goodwill from the broader soccer community in America at all levels has been extraordinary. And one never knows exactly why decisions were taken. But I’m pretty sure that power played some kind of role both locally and nationally, so we’re grateful to our fans, particularly those who sat through two very long council meetings. But we’re grateful to fans of all clubs, and actually, the broader media. We’ve been given a platform to tell our story about this David versus Goliath battle. And we’ve got the result that we wanted and I think the soccer community in America has played a big part of that. We are pleased and we’re grateful,” he added.

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