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How Orange County SC provided the perfect platform for Milan Iloski’s success, top-flight move

By NICHOLAS MURRAY -, 09/15/23, 10:55AM EDT


2022 USL Championship Golden Boot winner’s move again highlights club’s philosophy balancing on-field success, player progression

Orange County SC's Milan Iloski has fulfilled the promise the club saw in him when he signed with OCSC prior to the 2022 season, resulting in a move to Danish Superliga club FC Nordsjælland this January. | Photo courtesy Liza Rosales / Orange County SC

At first glance, a player like Milan Iloski wouldn’t have fit the typical profile for a player Orange County SC was targeting to bring in, develop, and then find a way to move into a European setting.

But, according to OCSC President of Soccer Operations and General Manager Oliver Wyss, the 24-year-old was someone the club had long been keeping tabs on as someone they believed would be capable of such a pathway as he joined the club for the 2022 USL Championship season after two years at Real Salt Lake.

“We felt very strongly about Milan Iloski,” Wyss told Sebastian Salazar and Herculez Gomez on Thursday’s edition of ESPN’s Fútbol Americas. “Our Sporting Director Peter Nugent looked at him extensively. We obviously had his brother [Brian] at the club, we knew of him from UCLA, and we always felt that was a player who maybe should have come to us at an earlier stage. He ended up going as a homegrown to [Real Salt Lake], but he never really connected there.

“It was clear, we said ‘look, come to us, show your real talent, and I guarantee you there’s an opportunity for you to go to Europe if you do what we believe you can do.’”

Iloski has more than lived up to his end of the deal.

In less than two seasons, he’s not only become the all-time goalscoring leader in Orange County’s history with 38 tallies across all competitions but claimed the USL Championship’s Golden Boot in 2022 with 22 goals.

Currently delivering another stellar season as the club drives toward a postseason berth and the pursuit of a second USL Championship title in three seasons, the California native became the sixth player OCSC has sent via transfer to a top-flight European club in recent years this week as his transfer to Danish Superliga club FC Nordsjælland was confirmed, with the move set to take place this January.

“Orange County gives a great blend of a lot of experienced players, but a lot of young players coming up, like myself,” Iloski told CBS Sports Golazo’s Michelle Gingras and Ian Joy on Wednesday. “I’ve had some great experiences here with a lot of big-time players like Michael Orozco, Cubo Torres and a lot of guys like that, who bring young players like myself or Kobi [Henry] underneath their wing.

“That blend, I think, is really valuable and it gives an opportunity to young players to play where a lot of times in MLS they won’t, so there’s really not that opportunity to go to Europe.”

Iloski believes he’s found the right fit for the next step in his career in Nordsjælland, which is currently in second place in the Superliga and has qualified for the group stage of the UEFA Conference League this season. It certainly helps to have someone intimately acquainted with the club to offer advice – current OCSC Head Coach Morten Karlsen spent nine years on the technical staff at Nordsjælland – but Iloski also saw a fit in the style the club aims to play which fits his skillset as a talented finisher whose game has become well-rounded in his time in Orange County.

For Wyss, making the right deal for one of the Championship’s most prominent players was also paramount. While inquiries were made by other clubs for Iloski’s services, Nordsjælland met the club’s expectations in terms of the financial agreement that closed the deal.

“For Milan, it was very important for us as a club, but also for the league as a whole, to make sure that the leading goalscorer from last year – and arguably the most complete scorer in the USL – was going for a significant transfer fee,” said Wyss. “We want to make sure we set the record straight, like we did last year with Kobi Henry, these players are valuable. We’re investing in these players, and let’s face it, these players have a European value that we want to make sure we can match from the USL.

“We’ve proven it over and over again, and we’re very happy that we came to a great arrangement here that works for the player, that works for us, and that ultimately works for the club as well.”

Iloski’s current focus remains on completing another successful season with Orange County, which is currently in third place in the USL Championship’s Western Conference, four points behind leader Sacramento Republic FC with six games to go in the regular season.

In the bigger picture, though, he hopes his move – following those such as former teammate Kobi Henry to Stade de Reims last year and Joshua Wynder’s from Louisville City FC to SL Benfica this – shows other players what can be achieved when talent meets opportunity and visibility.

“I would say to bet on yourself,” said Iloski of his message to other young players. “If you have the confidence that you’re a good enough player, then anywhere you go, that’ll be seen. Hopefully I can provide a platform to other people to see that if you’re on the field and you’re doing well it doesn't really matter if you’re in MLS or USL or anywhere else. It’s just about the quality that you can bring.”

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