Photo courtesy of Orange County Blues FC / Owner James Keston (left) and VP of Soccer Operations Oliver Wyss
When James Keston took ownership of Orange County Blues FC late in the 2016 USL regular season, he was aiming to make a big impression in the local soccer community.
With the club’s recent agreement to partner with 2018 Major League Soccer expansion club LAFC, the first major step in that process is now underway.
“It’s been great,” Keston said. “I think from the first time we sat down with them we thought we had a lot in common. We had a lot of goals that were similar, and we put it together pretty quickly, especially with the time frame in the context of what we were doing. It really has been a very good relationship to this point and we’re looking forward to being much better.”
The Blues have not held a formal partnership prior to their agreement with the MLS newcomer. While players had been acquired on loan from MLS organizations, including 2012 USL All-League selection Bright Dike, a full-time partnership never came to fruition.
With the addition of LAFC to the Southern California soccer landscape, however, the opportunity arose. For Blues General Manager and Executive VP of Soccer Operations Oliver Wyss, the move marked a major step forward in the club’s plans. Wyss has already been in discussions with LAFC Executive VP of Soccer Operations John Thorrington as to how the partnership will unfold.
“It’s been first-class,” Wyss said. “Everything he wants to accomplish falls into the mission we want to accomplish, so together we feel we can build a very, very strong base at the USL level, and I think that will trigger into MLS as well. He’s been first-class, and we share very common goals and a vision for our organizations.”
The partnership is similar to that struck by 2017 MLS expansion club Atlanta United FC and historic USL club the Charleston Battery, but with one key difference. While Atlanta sent players such as Alex Tambakis on a season-long loan to Charleston, others like Junior Burgos got playing time elsewhere. According to Wyss, the partnership between the Blues and LAFC is exclusive, which means any talent signed in the upcoming year should arrive soon after in Orange County.
“All of the players they’ll be signing for the U.S. market next year will be playing for us in the USL,” said Wyss. “Obviously, the players will be on season-long loans and they’ll be showcasing their talent for us for one year and then move on to MLS and excite people in 2018 in Los Angeles.”
With the side coming off back-to-back USL Cup Playoffs appearances, reaching the Western Conference Semifinals on each occasion, Orange County is now looking to broaden its base organizationally. New hires have already been made in the front office, and a rebrand of the club also is on the horizon.
“I think the next two steps are the rebranding, which we will be coming forth with more information on in the next couple of weeks, and an announcement on where we’ll be playing next year, which we also expect will be coming in the next couple of weeks,” said Keston. “Everything is building, little by little, toward next season but we think it’s going to be spectacular.”
With the club’s long-range goals now coming into range, the aim of becoming the premier club for talented players in Orange County to take their game to the next level is in sight for Keston and Wyss.
“We really want to represent Orange County,” said Keston. “We feel like Orange County is large enough, diverse enough, and has enough youth talent that it’s going to take us an exceptional period of time to take advantage of all of the assets we have there. What comes after that, who knows, but we have a long path ahead of us to take advantage and make great connections and relationships with everyone who’s been doing this for years and years.
“I think we can make this a win-win for everyone, and align everyone’s incentives to a single goal, which is having the best soccer players come out of Orange County.”