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Orange County’s Bryce Jamison grabs Academy Playoffs spotlight with hat trick

By NICHOLAS MURRAY -, 12/07/23, 6:52PM EST


New Mexico embraces underdog role in playoff return; AC Connecticut gets winning breakthrough from Weiss

Orange County SC's Bryce Jamison cuts past an Ironbound SC defender before scoring the opening goal of his hat trick at the USL Academy League Playoffs on Thursday. | Photo courtesy Emily Sullivan / United Soccer League

TAMPA, Fla. – It’s a slight contrast for Orange County SC’s Bryce Jamison.

A month ago, he was in Indonesia preparing to compete for the United States at the FIFA U-17 World Cup, where he appeared in all four contests for Head Coach Gonzalo Segares’ squad.

On Thursday, he was in action at the 2023 USL Academy League Playoffs and bagged a first-half hat trick to lead OCSC to a 5-0 victory against Ironbound SC in the Round of 16 at the Tournament Sportsplex of Tampa Bay.

For the 17-year-old winger, coming back and competing with his club teammates remains part of the fun of the game, especially when there’s the prospect of a title at hand.

“It’s always nice to always just continue playing you know?” said Jamison. “I just enjoy the game. And especially when my boys got the dub, [I’m] happy to be here with them and continue on.”

Jamison is among the players signed to professional contracts with USL Championship clubs who are competing this week at the event. As much as Jamison has achieved this year – including making 27 appearances and logging just over 1,000 minutes in the Championship – there’s still importance placed on getting the chance to play in a high-level competition as his progression continues.

For OCSC Academy Head Coach Didier Crettenand – a former standout for the club on the field in his playing days – this week also gives Jamison a chance to play a freer role than was expected of him with OCSC and with the United States.

“He’s a First Team player because he’s able to execute and he has the profile of a player who can go to the next level,” said Crettenand. “Now when he come with us, there is a little bit more freedom to go forward, to make something happen, to be creative, and it’s exactly what he did today.”

Orange County SC’s victory set up a fascinating Quarterfinal on Friday against Indy Eleven, which also saw its star shine in an 8-0 victory against FC Copa Academy to open the day. Diego Sanchez – who last week signed professional terms with the club – had two goals and an assist in the first half before being substituted early in the second half after a superb individual display.

Jamison is looking forward to the contest, where his talent will be in the spotlight again.

“I don't mind it,” said Jamison. “If I’m not in the spotlight, I still play to my best ability and try my best, but the spotlight, it’s not bad.”

NEW MEXICO BRINGS UNDERDOG EDGE: New Mexico United has made its presence felt at the past two editions of the USL Academy League Playoffs, but this year’s side is bringing an underdog mentality to the new single-elimination format.

That helped the side advance in a hard-fought 1-0 victory against North Carolina FC that saw Andres Andrade score the only goal on a first-half penalty kick. United Academy Head Coach David Estrada was full of praise for many of his side – including defender Jace Sais, forward Javier Trujillo, forward Leo Bencomo, and others – for the battle they showed in seeing out a win against a good NCFC lineup.

“Every player sees himself a little bit as an underdog,” said Estrada “We played a really good NCFC team and I know a lot of those guys are committed to [NCAA Division I Programs]. We want to play against players that are going to play at the next level. And we have a few players that can definitely do that as well.”

Estrada was also full of praise for New Mexico’s opponent in North Carolina, in which he sees another club going about things in the right way when it comes to its player development.

“I think it has to be an agreed upon commitment to developing the youth in the area that you’re representing, right?” said Estrada. “I think if you’re just focusing on having a professional team and trying to put the best product on the field, I don’t think that’s the way forward for U.S. Soccer. So, even if it’s a small city or a small town – we consider ourselves a small city in Albuquerque – we want to help develop the young players because there is talent there. And, like you saw today, we have a very talented group.”

WEISS DELIVERS FOR AC CONNECTICUT: In its first two trip to the USL Academy Playoffs, the step up from being division winners to the main stage proved a bridge too far for AC Connecticut, which didn’t take a victory in the group stage in either 2021 or 2022.

On Thursday afternoon in the tournament’s new format, captain Max Weiss scored the decisive goal in a 2-1 victory against Utah Red Wolves SC with a brilliant strike from 20 yards early in the second half that rallied the side back for its first official win at the event.

“I just saw the space kind of open up and thought that we hadn’t tested their goalkeeper too much so far,” said Weiss. “[Winning] means a lot, especially to this club. We’ve come down here the first two times and things didn’t go as well as we wanted them to, so get win for the first time was big for the club.”

Weiss’ finish was the highlight of a game that didn’t see AC Connecticut hit its highest gears overall – Head Coach Antony Howard said after the game that he felt the Red Wolves had played the better soccer of the sides – but the resilience the side showed to find a way through to the Quarterfinals was something the side took pride in.

With Weiss playing in his third and final USL Academy League Playoffs before he starts his college career at Connecticut College, it was fitting for Howard that he provided the finish that earned the side a notable win.

“He started in our academy as a sophomore, and he's been down here for three national championships,” said Howard. “It’s no surprise he pulled up big in this because he’s got the most experience out of everyone, but he’s a dynamic kid and he can score nice goals.”

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