Located about 40 miles from downtown Los Angeles in Irvine, California, Orange County SC has an idyllic location. its training facilities and grounds, championship football stadiums, In the view of the Santa Ana Mountains we call home.
In its current form, the club will enter its 13th season in the USL Championship. The USL Championship is the second tier of U.S. soccer, separate from the MLS with no promotion or relegation. Winning the league title in 2021 was their most important achievement to date, but they had a dismal season last year, finishing bottom of the Western Conference table and missing out on the playoffs.
“Football is a results-driven industry,” said Oliver Wyeth, General Manager and President of Football Operations. Instead, Wiss has listed a series of things he says are “major achievements” for the club in 2022. It’s player sales. Specifically, Cobi Henry’s move to French Ligue 1 side Reims and the pre-season sale of forward Ronaldo Damus to Swedish side GIF Sundsvall.
“These are big milestones for Orange County,” said Wyss.
This is a stance that demonstrates the mission shared by a growing number of clubs in the OCSC and USL Championships. It is to provide an alternative development pathway that allows young U.S.-based talent to move to overseas clubs sooner than they otherwise would. At Orange County, that mission influences every decision we make as a club.
“Just because all players are for sale doesn’t mean none are for sale,” Wiss said. “But business has to make sense. I want to stand up and sell players for a significant transfer fee.”
Henry, who debuted for Orange County at the age of 16, epitomizes how the USL seeks to provide a different kind of domestic opportunity for America’s talented players.The typical path for young U.S. players is to sign local players MLS Enroll in the academy, work your way up the ranks, and one day play for the first team. In exceptional circumstances, top talent with his EU citizenship, like Christian Pulisic (Croatia) and Gioreina (Portugal), have decided to leave their local teams and sign for European clubs before turning professional. there is. But the path taken by USMNT International’s Brenden his Aaronson and Tyler his Adams, moving professionally overseas via his MLS club at home, remains the most popular path for young Americans. increase.
When a young man is old enough to sign a professional contract, especially if he is a highly touted and promising player like Adams or Aaronson, MLS clubs usually do not sell players abroad. to offer long-term contracts. They receive a significant transfer fee. However, for many young players eager to move to Europe, signing a long-term contract is seen as a barrier to achieving their goals, a move that has made Henry and an increasing number of young American talent That’s why he chooses his USL club with European partnerships.
The Florida native spent his youth at Orlando City and Inter Miami before deciding to join Orange County two years before he was eligible to sign a professional contract at DRV PNK Stadium. As his agent, Orange County offered the then 16-year-old the opportunity to play in a professional environment. Henry performed well and was recognized internationally in the USMNT U19 and U20 groups. Orange County sold Henry to stud his lance for about $700,000 after his two years in Southern California.
MLS regulations made transfers to foreign clubs more complicated, so playing for Orange County facilitated a more direct sale to Europe. Without a portion of the transfer money going to the league or a mismatch between the money received in MLS and the amount allocated, the USL club would create a more aggressive seller as the sole owner of the player’s rights .
European partnerships can make this journey even easier. Orange County recently announced a long-term partnership with Dutch Eredivisie club Feyenoord, while Glasgow he announced he would maintain a permanent partnership with Rangers.
Orange County, in collaboration with Feyenoord Chief Executive Officer Dennis Te Klose, will “identify talent in the Americas, Africa and Asia, recruit players and, prior to a possible move to the Netherlands, first Bring them to Southern California.”
As part of the deal, Orange County sent three of their brightest young talents, Alex Villanueva, Corede Osundina and Bryce Jamison, to Rotterdam to train with Feyenoord’s under-23 team. Opportunities like this are why these young players and more and more talented players across the United States are choosing to join his USL club instead of staying on an MLS team. Started playing last year.
“When you’re playing in the (MLS) Next Pro, you’re playing with people your age. The physicality is there, but when you step into the (USL) Championship, it’s on another level.” , said Osundina, who has been featured on the USMNT’s under-20 team. “You’re 26 or 27 and you’re going up against guys who’ve played in MLS and Europe… (Kobi) Henry to take a few minutes out of the USL Championship and take the next step in Europe. Establishing ourselves in is the path we take…everybody wants to follow.”
Osundina and Jamison came to Orange County from the FC Barcelona Residency Academy in Arizona. The academy was established by La Liga clubs in the United States to monitor and nurture young talent. In January, Julian Araujo made history as the first player to join the Residency Academy to sign for Barcelona, joining with his $4 million from his Galaxy in Los Angeles. He’s just the latest example of a hotbed of young talent in the field that former GM of the LA Galaxy and the Mexican national team, Tehe Klose, is familiar with.
“These are clubs looking for top talent from all over the world,” said Wyss. “They understand that there are top young players in the United States, especially in Southern California, with great potential. They have analyzed our professional environment and how we have produced players over the years who have the ability to play for them.
“What we do is give players an end goal. We don’t want Orange County to be the end goal. We just want to be a very important part of their development. A lot of top players come to us and they know that if they are good enough, they are in a professional environment every day where they can grow as a person and as a player.”
The only young trio to visit Feyenoord and grow up in Southern California, Villanueva left the area at the age of 15 to join Real Salt Lake’s academy. He later joined the Seattle Sounders, previously he played for the USL, but now he’s playing for MLS Next, where he plays professionally with his partner in Seattle, Tacoma, his club, Defiance. spent the season in In his view, the road from youth to first-team football in the MLS was rocky, and the decision to return to Southern California was an easy one.
“I used to play for the Sounders Academy[in Seattle]then I played for the second team in the USL Championship, the Tacoma Defiance,” says the 20-year-old. “I wanted a different challenge. Being on the second team in the MLS they are all young so it was a big thing to be integrated into the older group. That was my big goal.
“Coming here, the partnership with Feyenoord is exciting. I went there and trained with the youth team and saw that the levels were not too disjointed, which was very motivating. is the path I want to take and a little step in the door makes it easier I just take it every day If they ask us to go there again I hope I can do my best and get where I want.”
Another link with the partnership has to do with the club’s values and style of play. Orange County head coach Richard Chaplow, a former Premier League midfielder at West Bromwich Albion and Southampton, has the license to establish his philosophy, but his partnership with Feyenoord has grown just as it has with the academy. open the door for talent from all over the world to come to Orange County for Graduated in Rotterdam. Therefore, the agreement should broadly agree on the overall vision.
Still, the partnership is not exclusive, and Orange County is free to do business around the world, especially in South America.
“We want to take this further and identify South American players,” says Wyss. “Instead of them going directly to Europe, we keep them for a year so that they can learn the system and adapt to what it means to be a professional player. ”
During the winter transfer window, Orange County bolstered its coaching staff by signing 10 players from Europe and North America. They also retain Milan Jiroski who has scored his 22 goals in the previous season and made him the top goalscorer in the USL Championship. Despite interest in the 22-year-old from San Diego County, they believe his transfer fee will only increase in the next solid season.
The main focus is on following in Henry’s footsteps and providing a pathway for young players to play in Europe. And, in Osundina’s opinion, he will be one of many players on his OCSC path.
“More players will continue to participate in the USL,” said Osundina. Even just scrolling through Instagram says, “New 16 year old signing today. Another 14 year old signing today. Somewhere (San Jose) swinging, Oakland going to his roots and more.”
“The focus is on getting in and out of here. We’re trying to go to bigger, better places, but they want us to do the same.”
(Top photo: Liza Rosales / Orange County SC)