It’s been a busy offseason for many sides in the USL, perhaps none more so than the Orange County Blues FC. With a new owner (James Kasten), a new name, a new manager (Logan Pause), and new players, the club will certainly look different from the side that came within a whisker of making the USL Western Conference Finals last season.
But perhaps the biggest piece of news this offseason came in December when the side announced that they had formed a partnership with MLS side Los Angeles Football Club (LAFC). LAFC is an expansion franchise that will begin play in 2018 but their arrangement will have an immediate impact upon the Blues in 2017. The deal would allow for LAFC players to join the Blues for the upcoming season, including their academy players.
Partnerships like the one created by the Blues and LAFC are common between USL and MLS sides. Going into the 2017 season ten MLS sides will partner or have affiliate agreements with USL teams (Atlanta, Colorado, Columbus, Dallas, D.C., Houston, New England, New York City, and San Jose) while the Los Angeles Galaxy, New York Red Bulls, Philadelphia Union, Portland Timbers, Real Salt Lake, Seattle Sounders, Sporting Kansas City, Toronto FC, and Vancouver Whitecaps will maintain their own USL teams.
For the Blues the deal is part of a larger process of expanding their reach in California and to further develop their players. “When our new owner, James Kasten, came on in August he really wanted to take a look at the partnership and see how we can develop our players and expand what we are doing here at the USL level,” said OC Blues Vice President of Marketing and Community Relations Kelly Salmieri. “It is a great pipeline for us to help develop our players and for us to get some top premier players playing for us in the 2017 and give them that ability to move up to LAFC in 2018.”
“Our goal this season to build a top quality organization both on and off the field and LAFC really gives us an opportunity to do that, especially with our youth academy.”
On the pitch the side will be led by new manager Logan Pause. Pause, 35, played his entire 11 year professional career with the Chicago Fire, helping the club win the 2003 and 2006 U.S. Open Cup and the 2006 MLS Supporters Shield. Last season, he served as the club’s under-23 coach in the Premier Development League.
Off the pitch the club may find additional supporters groups as part of this unique partnership at Anteater Stadium. Despite having yet to play a professional match LAFC are already home to five supporters groups: the Black Army 1850 (who originally supported Chivas USA), District 9 Ultras (another former Chivas supporters group), the Expo Originals, LAFC Relentless, and LAFC Cuervos. “We would love to have them come down and support both the Blues and LAFC,” said Salmieiri. “Obviously we have our supporters groups and that is going to be a main staple for our club. But we welcome all fans to come down and watch especially since they will be watching some of their own homegrown talent here.”