American Soccer Spotlight — Interviews with People Impacting Our Game
In March, SoccerToday’s series for 2019 on influencers in the beautiful game spotlight focus is on James Keston.
Keston is a man who never played professional soccer but bought a USL team and is one of the strongest influencers of Ameican soccer. He is a man who thinks out of the box and is determined to improve soccer in our country.
The former University of Michigan footballer knew his talents were better applied on the business side of the sport than on the field. Keston’s goal has been to further American soccer by creating a real pathway to the professional game for youth soccer players.
While Didier Drogba scored the winning goal for Phoenix Rising FC in the Western Conference Final of the 2018 USL Cup Playoffs, it was a very successful season for No. 1-seed Orange County SC. This year, the team is determined to go all the way to the 2019 USL Cup Championship and hopes to challenge the Eastern contender for the title.
The team’s motto is Ruthless and Relentless.
With the drive and ambition reflecting the team’s motto, Orange County SC is getting ready for their season opener and we wanted to give fans insight into the club’s leadership.
Braeden Cloutier is Orange County SC’s Head Coach and will be interviewed in a future spotlight.
Related Soccer News: A Real American Pathway to the Pros
SoccerToday’s Interview with James Keston
Diane Scavuzzo: When did you first become involved in soccer?
James Keston: My adventure in soccer started in 2005 when I owned the MLS expansion rights of Seattle and Portland.
Even back then, I believed the MLS rights would be very profitable and afford the chance to genuinely do good in the community.
I strongly believe in bringing people together and teaching the right values.
Diane Scavuzzo: How did you end up with MLS expansion rights?
James Keston: This was back at a time where the league was not as strong and it was not an exceptionally challenging process to gain the rights, aside from showing that you had the financial resources. Today, it is very different.
Diane Scavuzzo: What did you end up doing with Seattle in Portland?
James Keston: I come from the real estate business and as many people will remember, in 2006, 2007 the real estate was very challenging. I had to focus on my day to day real estate business and the MLS opportunity slipped through my fingers.
I always knew that at some point in my life I wanted to get back into the soccer management and own a team.
A few years ago, I watched how the USL was growing and I reached out to the league at the end of 2015.
I found the Orange County SC — the right team in the right place. Coming from the real estate business, as far as soccer goes, Orange County is the best real estate I’ve ever seen.
Diane Scavuzzo: What are your goals for the team? Are you looking at selling the team down the road? Are you committed to staying with the team for the next few years?
James Keston: My goal is to stay with the team indefinitely.
I often talk about humility and knowing your role, and I know there is a spectacular future in our community-based business in the beautiful stadium at Irvine’s Great Park.
We are focused on bringing the local community together and providing 17 to 20 great professional soccer games a year, and, at the same, continuing to develop this pathway to professional soccer, helping young American players become as good as they can and reaching the highest level in the world.
I think the future is exceptionally bright for American soccer and American transfer market.
The global transfer market is a five billion dollar annual market. If the United States was one percent of that, I would be shocked. The numbers in the global market are going to grow in the next five to ten years, and obviously, there is an incredible opportunity for American soccer.
Diane Scavuzzo: Why are you so passionate about sports?
James Keston: Sports provide an environment where children can learn and develop. As the years go on and I see my own children beginning to grow up, I see sports as more and more essential.
Children learn teamwork, and they learn how to win and lose by playing sports.
It is important that children deal with disappointment — it teaches them what it takes to really be successful.
This organization exists to create some of the best soccer players in the world — taking the process to the next level where you are really looking for those five or ten best players who can go on to play in MLS or in the top leagues in the world.
Diane Scavuzzo: So what kind of culture do you need to build for them to get there?
James Keston: You need to build a culture of hard work, accountability and exposing these kids to what it is to be a professional player.
Diane Scavuzzo: So what sports did you play when you were young?
James Keston: I played everything. I played football and basketball primarily but also baseball and track.
Diane Scavuzzo: Where did you grow up?
James Keston: In California, I grew up in Los Angeles.