May 17, 2024

OC Sports Zone: Community First

PHOTOS: OC Soccer Club setting the bar high preparing for opener Friday night

Coach Braeden Cloutier talks to the media Tuesday as team executives Oliver Wyss (left) and Jeff Garner look on. (Photos Tim Burt, OC Sports Zone)

Orange County Soccer Club has a goal this season to bring a championship home to Orange County fans and club officials, the head coach and players believe the pieces are in place to accomplish that.

OC Soccer Club is part of the United Soccer League, a Division II professional league which includes 36 teams from across the country. The team has its season opener Friday, March 6 at 7 p.m. at the Great Park vs. the El Paso Locomotive FC at the Great Park Championship Soccer Stadium.

“The amount of opportunity with this league and this team is amazing,” said Jeff Garner, the team’s president of operations during the team’s media day Tuesday. “This is a really exciting time to be in Irvine.”

To see the slide show, please click on the first photo

After finishing 15-10-9 last season, the team has set the bar high, added Oliver Wyss, president of soccer operations and general manger.

“The last five years, we’ve been to the playoffs four times and reached the Western Conference finals and won the regular season back to back as well,” Wyss said. “Winning a championship in the USL is important. But more important for us is can we do it the Orange County Soccer Club way and we believe, yes, with talented experienced players but also develop young talented players and give them the opportunity to when ready, come out and compete.”

Seven of the team’s players are under the age of 18.

“We have a very good balance of a few incredibly talented players who can play on the absolutely hightest caliber level still but they believe OC Soccer Club meets their ambitions on the field and they also take pride in building a club that the community can be proud of and also be role models for our younger players who will perform here and go on to the next level,”
Wyss said.

The club also put together a working relationship with the Glasgow Rangers Soccer team which calls for Cammy Palmer, Danny Finlayson and Matthew Shiels to join Orange County Soccer Club on loan, Wyss said.

“The partnership is founded first and foremost on football and player development,” he said. “Having three of their players play with us, three very talented players, is a massive step.”

Everyone is on the same page, Wyss said.

“Going into this season, there is not one staff member and not one person in the entire organization who does not feel we have everything to go for a championship this season and that’s what we’re very excited about,” he said.

Head Coach Braeden Cloutier said he is also excited about his third season with the OC Soccer Club.

“As we grow and evolve, you will see we’re taking steps in the right direction,” the coach said.

“The first season as head coach, I think we over-achieved a bit, we won the Western Conference regular season,” he said. “Last year, we got off to a poor start. We didn’t have the personnel in time. But we ended the season finishing the season very strong and we got into the playoffs again.

“This season is the first time that we have a roster I believe can win a championship right from the start. I think the character of the players that we have and the players that we brought in and the balance within the team itself is extremely high and very, very good. Hopefully, if all things go well on Friday night, we pick up three points and start off the season on a high note.

“We have a lot of young players. But we also have a lot of experienced players as well for them to learn from to set the tone. Bringing back Thomas Enevoldsen, (with the) addition of Rob Kiernan, the extremely gifted center back so with him and Michael Orozco and Frederick Due and the goalie we brought in last year, Aaron Cervantes, we’re going to have a very strong back line.”

The coach is also expecting big contributions from defender Hugo Arellano, midfielder Aodhan Quinn and Orozco, who plays forward.

Orozco, who re-signed with OC Soccer Club over the off-season, said he’s looking forward to the season.

“It’s going great, we’ve got a great team and we all have the same ambition, which is championship,” said Orozco, who was raised in Santa Ana and Anaheim. “Obviously, we got to go through playoffs and getting the first game under our belts.

“Everyone is focused on working and working for each other. It’s a great group of guys who want to do their best for the team and for the city to know there is a team that they can come out and have fun. Overall, we got great players in every position, not just the first 11, but we’ve got a good group of guys who will see time and give their best. We got two for every position and we have to battle every day, every week to compete. We have a lot of young guys who want to get a good start to their career and we’re bringing guys from the Rangers. We have high hopes for the team in general.”

The team started out as the OC Blues in 2011. In 2017, team owner James Keston re-branded the team and moved its home games to the Great Park stadium.

Team officials appear to be working hard to encourage fans in Orange County to attend home games at the 5,000-seat soccer stadium. They’ve added more ticket sales personnel and have added more promotional nights.

Every Friday night game will be a fireworks night and this Friday, adults will be able to purchase beer for $1 between 6 and 7 p.m.

First Responders Night will be on April 17 and Military Appreciation Night will be Friday, May 29. Three Beer Fest events are planned on March 21, July 25 and Oct. 17. There will be food trucks, lawn games and give-aways. A number of other activities are planned for families on April 4, May 16 and Aug. 29 in which youngsters can take part in soccer-clinics and learn about wellness.

For ticket information, go to the OC Soccer Club website.

-Tim Burt, OC Sports Zone; timburt@ocsportszone.com