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Orange County SC look to return to heights of 2021 in new campaign

But first, they’ll have to face an early-season gauntlet.

Courtesy of Orange County SC.

Orange County SC make it a point each and every season to say out of the gate each year that the objective for the team is to win a championship. In 2021, they took a bit of an up-and-down ride to get there, but they accomplished the goal, winning the USL Championship league title. Last season, however, was a Murphy’s Law of results, despite having two prolific strikers, including league Golden Boot winner Milan Iloski.

With last season in the books and the 2023 season opener on tap Saturday night when OCSC host Eastern Conference powerhouse Louisville City at Championship Soccer Stadium, the team is eager to reclaim their reputation as a top side and hopefully contend for glory once again.

“I think the attitude of the players, the way they conduct themselves so far shows me that they’re ready to go and [contend],” Orange County head coach Richard Chaplow told reporters during the club’s media day on Wednesday. “I think last year, for whatever reason, it was very tested, you know, both as a coach, as an organization and as players. We acknowledge that and we tried to make that better, obviously this year. But I think at times last year, we let ourselves down in our attitude on the field. We tried to move forward with the group in that respect. And I think you have to have any team that wins championships, any team that creates players, any team that plays good football has to have a strong team spirit. And that is one thing that I can definitely tick that box off right now that as a group. They have each other’s backs. They have good connections in the locker room. And then the next step of that is to obviously see that grow and grow into the team and show that personality on the field.”

Orange County have tried to address what they saw as limitations from last season. After assistant coach Robert Earnshaw left the club midseason for personal reasons, the club brought in rising manager Morten Karlsen in the offseason. Changes have been made to the performance and training staff to address a spate of injuries last year. And the club have added nine players, including four players from abroad, as they look to get back to elite status.

While many of the headlines surrounding OCSC have concerned their partnerships with big European clubs, most recently announcing a deal with Dutch giant Feyenoord last month, as well as creating a burgeoning pipeline of young prospects being sold abroad, those projects to some extent can truly only be successful when the on-field product is good, too.

Chaplow, however, admits the early-season schedule for his side is a gauntlet.

“It’s definitely a tough opener. Obviously nice to play your first game of the season at home. Louisville this week, Tampa next week, historically the two strongest teams probably in the East. So it was nice for the league to give us that surprise and that test early doors so pros and cons to it, of course,” he said dryly. “But we feel that we’ve recruited a very strong team. One that is is eager to get to work. And we’re hoping that we can put out a good product this year on the fields and try to right some wrongs from last season.”

Chaplow has been with the club since the summer of 2016, joining as a player first before retiring and joining the coaching staff. The Englishman reflected on the evolution of the USL Championship in his time involved.

“The growth has been significant since I arrived here and I think I’m moving into my eighth year now. So the league has moved fast. We’ve got it to a point now where it’s an independent league, which I think is important. I think it’s the direction that the USL have always wanted to go in. What that brings is obviously, ambitious owners, more talent to the league, and it just gets stronger and stronger.

“So I think it’s only a good thing. But it does mean that as an organization, as a team here in Orange County, we’ve got to make sure that we’re continuing to push forward as well. We’ve obviously tried to do that in this offseason. We should be able to see that this year on the field as well. The ways that we’ve gone about, things that we learned last year, and the year before that went well. We’re looking forward to putting them in place,” Chaplow added.

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