IRVINE, Calif. – Through its own promotion of homegrown talent, the addition of top youth prospects from elsewhere in the United States, and its partnership with legendary Scottish club Rangers FC, there are few clubs currently operating in the manner of the USL Championship’s Orange County SC.
A new documentary series titled “Path to Glory” which debuted Thursday night on ESPN2 offers a behind-the-scenes look at six of the club’s young players aiming to reach the top of the game, giving an insight into the club and what it takes to become a world-class player in the 21st century.
“Stories about young athletes attempting to make it on the world stage – to train, dedicate, and perfect themselves at the top level – are always dramatic, engaging, and inspiring to an audience,” said Producer Sean-Michael Smith. “The partnership that a young club like Orange County SC has created with Glasgow Rangers creates an atmosphere of professionalism and accessibility to make it in the international arena unlike we’ve seen before. They’re truly on a path to change soccer in America.”
While its history as a club goes back to the origin of the USL Championship in 2011, Orange County has undergone a transformation over the past three seasons under the leadership of owner James A. Keston. Investment into the club’s personnel on the field and a new permanent home at Championship Soccer Stadium has turned heads, as has the club’s willingness to give opportunities to young, talented players.
Last year, OCSC made history by signing Francis Jacobs to a professional contract at the age of 14 years, 4 months and 29 days old, making him the youngest men’s professional signing in U.S. history. Jacobs went on to compete for OCSC at the first-ever USL Academy Western Conference Regional Event last October, and was named one of the top players at the event.
This offseason, the club’s partnership with Rangers saw Jacobs, goalkeeper Aaron Cervantes and forward Diego Lopez – the latter duo current U.S. youth internationals in their own right – train in Glasgow. Jacobs has since competed as a guest for Rangers FC Academy during its U16 side’s trip to the Alkass International Cup in Dubai earlier this year.
The partnership also saw the loan of a trio of young Rangers products – Cammy Palmer, Danny Finlayson and Matthew Shiels – to Orange County for the 2020 Championship season. The six players form the central stories of the documentary, which also looks at the bonds that have quickly been developed across the Atlantic Ocean.
Orange County SC's Francis Jacobs in action for Rangers FC U16s at the Alkass International Cup earlier this year. Jacobs became the youngest professional men's soccer player in American history in 2019. | Photo courtesy Rangers FC
“We all felt that it was essential to show that this was not a paper partnership like many other pro soccer partnerships, not a PR show,” said Keston. “From day one players and staff were moving both ways to make this partnership a reality, to create a world-class player pathway to highest levels of European soccer with OCSC as a key step for every player in the process.”
In working on this project, what’s come to the fore for Smith has been the dedication that goes into reaching the top of the game. It’s given him a greater respect for the players, coaching staffs and fans that have made soccer the world’s sport, and how Orange County and Rangers aspire to provide platforms for the opportunities that lie ahead for the players whose careers are about to take flight.
Cammy Palmer made his debut for Orange County SC on loan from Rangers in the club's 2020 Championship opener against El Paso Locomotive FC in March. | Photo courtesy Liza Rosales / Orange County SC
Orange County's top personnel recognize the importance of the documentary in giving a national audience the chance to learn more about the club's academy model.
"I am delighted and proud to showcase our Orange County player development pathway with Rangers FC on a nationwide scale," said Orange County SC General Manager Oliver Wyss. "We strongly believe that there are world-class soccer prospects in the United States, and if provided with the right professional structure and daily competitive environment of the USL, those players will succeed internationally at big clubs like Rangers."
As much as OCSC has turned heads over the past three years, the spotlight will get even brighter for a club that is looking to change the game in American soccer. Having already competed at a USL Academy Cup event, and with the USL Academy League set to kick off in 2021, the club will have more opportunities to develop young talent in the near future.