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Pacific Division preview: Orange County SC

Checking in with Sacramento Republic’s down-low rival in 2021.

Courtesy of Orange County SC

With the 2021 USL Championship season set to kick off in just over a week for Sacramento Republic FC, we will check in on all of the Pacific Division foes they’ll primarily face in the upcoming campaign. Up first, an opponent who dates back to Sac Republic’s first season in the USL, Orange County SC.

Key players out: Aodhan Quinn, Frederik Due, Aaron Cervantes, Danny Crisostomo, Sean Okoli

Key players in: Patrick Rakovsky, Abraham Romero, Adam Jahn, Chris Wehan, Ronaldo Damus, Eero Markkanen, Mikko Kuningas, Brent Richards

Head coach: Braeden Cloutier, 4th season.

What changes did OCSC make in the offseason?

Orange County was part of the “group of death” in 2020 that merged with Sac Republic’s group for the Pacific Division this year, and they ended up missing out on the playoffs, but not by much. While the team has aimed to find promising young players and give them opportunities to develop on an independent basis, it seems they saw that they needed a few more game changers and were pretty aggressive in the offseason in reloading their roster. They lost talisman Aodhan Quinn to Phoenix Rising, a massive loss, and their goalkeeper duo of Frederik Due and Aaron Cervantes, but for the most part they have found players they expect to either replace or upgrade those who left.

Chris Wehan seems set to take over Quinn’s role on the squad, while there’s another young/old GK partnership in Abraham Romero and Patrick Rakovsky. They’ve signed a couple players out of Finland and added Reno 1868 stalwart Brent Richards. Finally, they seem to have reloaded in attack in a major way — Thomas Enevoldsen should be back in the fold this season, after personal reasons kept him away in 2020, joining USL/MLS tweener Adam Jahn and promising youngster Ronaldo Damus.

You never know until they’re out on the field, but OCSC didn’t look that far away from being really good in 2020 and on paper, they look like they should expect a playoff berth at minimum.

Who’s going to be the key man in 2021?

Having covered this team since 2015, I’d say when OCSC are really on form, they usually have two or three key players, and I’ll name a few here: Wehan is a player the club is really excited about, and he’s been very good in previous stops with Reno and New Mexico United. In addition, at least one of Enevoldsen and Jahn needs to be scoring regularly if Orange County are to find success. Each player is capable of winning the Golden Boot, so that is a region they should be aiming to be among.

You haven’t talked about the defense at all yet. What about them?

I’ve yet to talk about the defense much and that’s because they’re pretty much keeping the band together for another season. Michael Orozco, Kevin Alston and Robbie Kiernan are experienced, but there is a potential risk one or more of them hit a wall this year. Having said that, they’ll have younger defenders like Kobi Henry and Nathan Smith. Richards will probably play in defense, too, to bridge the gap between the youths and vets. I think the defense could be the wild card for the team, but given the new goalkeepers, having a steady defense return should be fine, assuming the aging players are able to withstand a full season’s rigors.

How tough will they be for Sac Republic?

Tough! These teams have had some epic games over the years, and while they don’t consider each other their top rivals, I think OCSC and Sac Republic will be neck and neck in contention for the top of the division, alongside Phoenix Rising and San Diego Loyal, and possibly LA Galaxy II.

OK, so the competition will be fierce, but overall, I expect Orange County and Sacramento to have good meetings this season, and it will be a matter of the best team prevailing, most likely. But these are quite possibly games to circle an extra time on your calendar in 2021.

Games scheduled between these teams in 2021

  • May 22: at Orange County SC
  • June 5: at Sac Republic
  • July 10: at Sac Republic
  • July 24: at Orange County SC

What do you think? Leave a comment below.