Soccer in America — Pathway to Professional Soccer
James Keston — Owner of Orange County SC of the USL — on Providing a Track for the Best Youth Players To Become Pros #MyOCSC
This is SoccerToday’s new series on influencers in the beautiful game
James Keston never played professional soccer, yet as the owner of USL’s Orange County SC (OCSC) he has become one of the strongest influencers of the game, especially in the Southern California soccer landscape. The former walk-on footballer at the University of Michigan has established a real pathway to professional soccer in Southern California.
In the current USL season, Orange County SC has jumped to the top of the standings, above all of the MLS backed USL clubs — all while shaking up the soccer landscape with their focus on providing opportunities for top youth players. The club is gaining recognition for their high-quality soccer and becoming known for opening doors worldwide for their players.
Now, on top of the USL Western Conference table after a 5-2 victory over Real Monarchs SLC and cinching a USL Playoff berth, Orange County SC is the USL club to watch.
SoccerToday’s Interview with Orange County SC’s James Keston:
Diane Scavuzzo: How do you describe Orange County SC’s culture?
James Keston: Our culture is focused on providing an extremely competitive environment for our players and a winning attitude within our organization.
Our motto is “relentless and ruthless.”
That motto is the core of our culture. Obviously relentless is relatively self-explanatory, but ruthless is a word used a lot in the soccer community … especially in relation to strikers who are ruthless in front of the goal.
It is not the normal, generalized definition of ruthless that you might apply to an amoral person; it is a commitment to success and doing whatever is necessary to reach your goals as a soccer player and as a soccer team.
Diane Scavuzzo: Does ruthless means maximizing your opportunities?
James Keston: Yes.
In soccer, as in life, opportunities are limited.
You have to be prepared to strike with precision and you won’t get many chances to do it again if you miss.
Diane Scavuzzo: Relentless and ruthless is great. It sums up a sense of a very competitive sports team. Is that the aura that you most feel fits Orange County SC?
James Keston: Absolutely. Competition is necessary to put a great product on the field, whatever level you are playing at.
At the end of the day, Orange County SC is looking to be the representative of Orange County, California — reflecting the area’s best qualities. Of course, the area is known for its sunshine and the good life, but the core values of Orange County are hard work, enthusiasm, and entrepreneurship. These are the values that we promote.
We want it to be known that we’re focused on making sure that our players, as individuals, are developing their skills and improving — so that they can get them to the next level.
For our best players, we don’t want us to be the last stop.
We want Orange County SC to just be a place where they learn and improve their skills before they go on to achieve their dream.
Diane Scavuzzo: Can you describe the type of players you have on Orange County SC?
James Keston: Our team has a great combination of different levels of experience.
We have a group of experienced veterans who’ve played at the highest levels in the Premier League, the Dutch League, the Danish League, and the Japanese League for up to 10-15 years. We have one player who started in the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
We also have a number of experienced USL professionals who have been playing for five and six seasons and have won USL championships.
Then, we have a group of extremely talented young players who we’re trying to teach to hone their trade and work every day on their skills.
Becoming a soccer pro doesn’t happen overnight and it doesn’t happen by accident.
Players who want to become professionals need to learn how to keep themselves in balance so they can have a stable life and focus on improving their skills every season.
Becoming a pro happens by taking care of your body. It happens by taking care of your mind and understanding your own finances. It is about personal responsibility.
Diane Scavuzzo: If you were speaking to the youth soccer coaches of top clubs, what would you want them to know? Why should they send their best players to Orange County SC?
James Keston: Unlike other professional soccer organizations in Southern California that have a win-at-all-costs mentality, we at OCSC have two equally important priorities.
One is fan and business oriented — it is obviously a priority to win USL championships and develop our organization and our brand.
But our second priority is developmental and is equally critical for the future of our club.
Orange County SC is the pathway to professional soccer for young players — this is really the core of our mission.
A coach can know that if he sends his player to us, we have a separate Orange County SC training coach devoted only to developing young players. We want what is in the best interest of the player. We’re not looking to lock players down to a five-year contract and keep them around forever.
A talented youth player will know that he has the opportunity to play on our USL team if he’s good enough and works hard enough.
There is no other environment within soccer where somebody can move as quickly up the ladder and have an opportunity to be seen, not only by MLS clubs but by professional soccer clubs around the world.
Our Orange County SC staff have played and coached around the world. And we have visitors and scouts coming in every week from the biggest clubs in the world.
And to add to all of that, it is sunny and 75 degrees every day.
Diane Scavuzzo: When you say the biggest clubs in the world, can you share what clubs have sent scouts?
James Keston: Manchester United and Tottenham, are those big enough? They came out to scout our games, and there have been other Premier League teams visiting as well. Plus, we have great relationships with Liga MX clubs and have had multiple friendlies with professional teams from Mexico over the past year.
Diane Scavuzzo: If a talented player signed with Orange County SC, would he be seen by scouts from an MLS or an international team?
James Keston: Yes. The advantage of the USL team is that Orange County SC is a gateway to professional possibilities all around the globe.
An MLS academy is usually just a gateway to that MLS club or their specific USL team.
Diane Scavuzzo: Do you receive financial remuneration from these European clubs?
James Keston: U.S. Soccer does not enforce all FIFA mandates, but we have strong relationships with many foreign clubs and we’re able to do deals with them. If we’re providing a player who has signed a contract with Orange County SC, yes, we can receive a transfer fee.
Diane Scavuzzo: So there is motivation, there is a financial reward for your club?
James Keston: Yes, If we have a player who goes on to play in a larger league, we obviously receive compensation and potentially future transfer rights. Each of these fees is negotiated on a player by player basis.
Diane Scavuzzo: What would you tell a player at an MLS Development Academy?
James Keston: The stakes in MLS have risen significantly in the past few years and there are very few opportunities for young developing talent to gain real game minutes at many MLS clubs.
There are of course exceptions, but if you have a talented young player and you want him to gain exposure to professional soccer, get on the field, play against grown men and see if he can really match up, OCSC is the place.
A great example is 16-year-old Aaron Cervantes, who signed a full professional contract with us. Aaron practices with the first team almost every day.
Related Soccer News: Aaron Cervantes Signs Pro Contract
Diane Scavuzzo: As the owner of Orange County SC, what has been the greatest challenge so far?
James Keston: I think honestly the biggest challenge is establishing a new brand and getting Orange County SC to be well known within our own area. OC tends to be very spread out and highly suburban, and it takes time to get the message out. But there is no place on earth I would rather be.