After missing out on the postseason in 2017, Orange County SC put together some major moves last offseason that paid off handsomely. Finishing first in the Western Conference for the second time in the past four seasons, though, the feeling around this team is very different from the one that accomplished the same feat in 2015. Should the right pieces stick around, the future is looking as bright as it ever has for one of the league’s long-standing members. So what should we take away from this season?
How impressive was Orange County SC’s improvement from 2017?
Understandably, given their season a year ago, the biggest praise in terms of turning around a club’s fortunes were placed at the feet of the Portland Timbers 2 and Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC, with T2 making a 40-point improvement to go from the bottom of the Western Conference to its first trip to the USL Cup Playoffs and Riverhounds SC making a 23-point improvement to go from well off the pace to its first home playoff game at Highmark Stadium in Bob Lilley’s first year in charge.
Orange County’s move from out of the playoffs a year ago, though, should be placed at least alongside both of those, in particular due to the fact that OCSC matched Pittsburgh’s 23-point improvement from the 2017 campaign to 2018. Orange County’s improvement was certainly expected thanks to the offseason additions of players with excellent resumes in Aodhan Quinn, Thomas Enevoldsen and Christian Duke, but that everything came together as well as it did is a great credit to Head Coach Braeden Cloutier and the players themselves.
Behind all of this, of course, is Owner James Keston and General Manager Oliver Wyss, who have led a transformation in the past two years to allow new doors to open for a side that alternated seasons in and out of the playoffs over its first five years. OCSC certainly is unlikely to make another 23-point improvement next season, but with the direction the side moved this season it’s certainly reasonable to think another season of 65-plus points will be within reach.
Quinn and Seaton are back, who else is going to join them?
Orange County already announced that two of its key attacking pieces are going to be back for the 2019 season with USL Most Valuable Player finalist Aodhan Quinn and forward Michael Seaton having had new contracts announced during the club’s run to the Western Conference Final of the 2018 USL Cup Playoffs. The question now is which of their teammates will be back to try and make a run at the club’s first silverware?
The biggest question-mark is likely to be Quinn’s fellow USL Championship All-League First Team and Most Valuable Player finalist Thomas Enevoldsen, whose regular-season performance of 20 goals and nine assists certainly would have achieved his goal of a place on the radar for Major League Soccer sides. More likely, though, should be the midfield tandem of Christian Duke and Mats Bjurman, both of whom made more than 30 appearances for the side in 2018.
The club’s backline could look very similar as well, with Walker Hume, Jos Hooiveld and Thomas Juel-Nelsen giving the side three solid center backs to work with moving forward, and while Kevin Alston could find an opportunity to turn his stellar performances at full back into a return to Major League Soccer, it feels like a young talent like Noah Powder could do himself a lot of good with a full season for the side. Given the partnership between Orange County and LAFC, it will also be interesting to see what named appear in a preseason roster for the MLS side in a couple of months.
Did Michael Seaton given us a glimpse of what he will be?
If it seems like Michael Seaton has been part of your soccer consciousness for a while, next January will mark the sixth anniversary of his signing a Homegrown player deal with D.C. United prior to the 2013 MLS season. There have been many more downs than ups since that point, as can certainly be part of the growth pattern for any young professional, but now aged 22 years old Seaton appears to be ready to show everyone what the big deal was back then.
With 15 goals and seven assists, Seaton was the key third prong to Orange County’s attack and it was slightly surprising he didn’t garner more attention even with the exploits of Quinn and Enevoldsen around him. With the announcement he has already signed on for 2019 with Orange County, though, there could be a very big year ahead if Seaton can keep on the same track for his club with the 2019 Gold Cup likely in his sights as he looks for a recall to the Jamaican national team.
Given Seaton’s speed and eye for goal – his shot conversion rate of 23.44 percent was on a par with those who notched more goals in 2018 – there could be a lot more to come, especially with Quinn there to provide the supply of chances. Maybe most importantly, though, after his travails in Major League Soccer and overseas the best thing about this year watching Seaton was that he looked like he was having fun again, which could be a sign that this past year wasn’t a false dawn.