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What Oliver Wyss aims to bring to the USL’s front office

By NICHOLAS MURRAY -, 01/17/24, 2:30PM EST


The architect of a blueprint for success at Orange County SC over the past decade, Wyss became Head of Global Football Development and Sporting Director in December

After a decade that helped transform Orange County SC, Oliver Wyss was appointed the USL's Head of Global Football Development and Sporting Director in December. | Photo courtesy Emily Sullivan / United Soccer League

For everyone, the time eventually comes to move on.

After 30 years as part of Orange County’s broader soccer community – including the past decade leading the transformation of the USL Championship’s Orange County SC – that time came for Oliver Wyss this offseason.

Just over a month ago, the native of Switzerland was introduced as the United Soccer League’s new Head of Global Football Development and Sporting Director, bringing his insight and experience to the league’s front office.

“I felt the time was right for me to move to the USL and take the lead on the league’s ambitious player development and transfer market initiatives which will bring real value to every team in the league,” said Wyss recently. “I want to be a resource to all the club owners, presidents and sporting staff to ultimately help them develop a similar beneficial strategy that we had at Orange County, with fully aligned dual ambitions of competing for championships – but to also focus on player development. It is very important that our teams are looking at their players not as just as expenses but as assets who have a real value in the global transfer market.”

What Wyss accomplished in Orange County can’t be underestimated.

Joining the club as Head Coach in 2014, he began to implement a new philosophy from the foundation up. With the backing of OCSC owner James Keston, who purchased the club in September, 2016, OCSC’s restructuring grew more quickly.

The following year the club’s new home of Championship Soccer Stadium was opened in Irvine’s Great Park, and from there the club went from strength to strength.

OCSC finished on top of the Western Conference in 2018, only to fall in the Western Conference Final to Phoenix Rising FC. Three years later, it claimed its first league title, a landmark for its club philosophy that sought to combine young talented players like Championship Final MVP Ronaldo Damus and defender Kobi Henry with experienced veterans such as former United States international Michael Orozco.

Orange County SC celebrates winning the 2021 USL Championship title against the Tampa Bay Rowdies at Al Lang Stadium. | Photo courtesy Matt May / Tampa Bay Rowdies

Offering talents like Damus and Henry – both of whom were transferred to European clubs within the next eight months – the opportunity to play high-level First Team soccer was central to OCSC’s structure. So was establishing relationships with top European clubs as the side formed partnerships with Scotland’s Rangers FC and Feyenoord Rotterdam in the Netherlands that resulted in training stints, and transfers from Orange County to both clubs.

“Every offseason, we would send our top talents to our partner clubs so they could evaluate our players in their environment and give us quality feedback on their development,” said Wyss. “Successful training stints from Aaron Cervantes at Glasgow Rangers, Kobi Henry at Stade de Reims and most recently Korede Osundina at Feyenoord Rotterdam turned into significant transfers for us.”

Orange County offered a blueprint for potential success on the field and in the transfer market that other clubs could emulate. That model is now in evidence around the league.

Now, Wyss is aiming to spread that message further.

In joining the league’s front office, one of Wyss’ main aims is to help guide clubs across the USL ecosystem as they both move further into the international transfer market and build relationships with European clubs. The goal is not only to help clubs understand how to structure transfer agreements to their financial advantage, but to learn from the protocols top European clubs employ that can be implemented internally in the United States.

Former Orange County SC defender Kobi Henry is among the young talents that departed the club for Europe in recent years, joining Ligue 1's Stade de Reims via transfer in 2022. | Photo courtesy Liza Rosales / Orange County SC

In doing so, he picks up the baton from former USL Sporting Director Mark Cartwright, who returned to his native England last year to become Sporting Director at EFL Championship club Huddersfield Town A.F.C.

In his time in the league, Cartwright oversaw important changes in transfer strategy and club philosophy within the USL Championship and League One. The changes in mindset – both through Cartwright’s influence and the blueprint Orange County offered during Wyss’ tenure – have been on display in the Championship this offseason. In the past week, not only did the Charleston Battery transfer 2023 Young Player of the Year Fidel Barajas to Real Salt Lake of Major League Soccer – the club’s second outgoing sale of the offseason – but defending title holder Phoenix Rising FC made two notable signings in former Clemson University standout Pape Mar Boye and 19-year-old Juventus product Giulio Doratiotto.

For Wyss – who had a strong relationship with Cartwright during his time at the league – the incoming and outgoing moves this offseason emphasize his belief that more players are seeing what the USL Championship and its clubs have to offer young talent.

“With the success of the recent USL transfers, now more top young US and International talents are selecting the USL for their development,” said Wyss. “Pape Mar Boye, arguably the top college player in the country last year, and Giulio Doratiotto, a Juventus’ youth team product and Italian youth international, have chosen to play for Phoenix because they believe in Rising FC and the USL pathway.”

When it comes to pathways, far more clubs are now active in the USL Championship than when Wyss first arrived at Orange County. At the same time, there are few clubs that have been more prolific in bringing players in and moving them on. In the past six months, OCSC transferred both United States U-20 Men’s National Team forward Korede Osundina to Feyenoord, and 2022 Championship Golden Boot winner Milan Iloski to FC Nordsjælland in Denmark’s SuperLiga.

Players such as United States U-17 international Bryce Jamison and 16-year-old winger Benjamin Barjolo are on the radar as the next players with that potential in OCSC’s ranks, while elsewhere there are the likes of Birmingham Legion FC’s Matthew Corcoran – a teammate of Jamison’s in the U.S. squad at last year’s FIFA Men’s U-17 World Cup – and Memphis 901 FC 18-year-old Nighte Pickering, another U.S. youth international.

At the same time, this offseason’s transfer of Iloski – as well as those of Charleston goalkeeper Trey Muse to the Portland Timbers and Louisville City FC’s Manny Perez to Denmark’s AC Horsens – highlighted an area where Wyss believes Championship clubs can further expand their transfer business.

“It’s not only the top young talents that have a transfer value” he said. “It’s also the players in their early 20’s that are of interest for Europe or the MLS. With the ongoing improvement of the playing quality in the USL, more and more of these players will make the jump to the next level and we need to make sure that our clubs are being compensated accordingly.”

New USL Head of Global Football Development and Sporting Director Oliver Wyss at the league office in Tampa, Fla. | Photo courtesy Emily Sullivan / United Soccer League

If there’s anything the interest in USL Championship talent – both domestically and overseas – says loudest, it’s that the league itself has never been in a stronger position.

It’s shown in the fact that more than 60 players from across the USL received senior international call-ups in 2023, and USL Championship players competed at both the FIFA Men’s U-20 and U-17 World Cups. On the women’s side, dozens of players have already made the move into the professional ranks from the USL W League, and there were those who saw action at the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.

With the Championship and League One set to kick off their new seasons in two months – and the USL Super League set for its inaugural campaign in August – Wyss believes there has never been a brighter point in the organization’s history.

“I am extremely excited about the current state of the USL and joining a great team during a period of endless growth and opportunity,” said Wyss. “Fans are going to get first class entertainment coming to USL games and the quality of play this season will be the highest it has been due to significant investment by our teams on the sporting side.”

After the success Wyss helped create over the past decade in Orange County, he’s eager to accomplish the same with the USL.

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