Orange County SC have the limelight this week in a way they haven't for a very long time, as two international superstars are in town. First, news
Orange County SC have the limelight this week in a way they haven’t for a very long time, as two international superstars are in town.
First, news broke on Monday that Japanese international Keisuke Honda trained with the USL side this week. Honda, currently out of contract after his deal with AC Milan ended, was in town to get his preseason preparation going and to “learn more about Orange County SC,” according to a team spokesperson.
— Orange County SC (@orangecountysc) July 6, 2017
The wording of that is a tad ambiguous, and while Honda has started building ties to Southern California through his SOLTILO FC academy and was at one point rumored to be a potential investor for an NASL team in the region (so far, that part has not come to pass), it left many wondering if he would be signing a contract to stay in the United States, and if so, where. While USL fans may have daydreamed about Honda in their midst for five or 10 minutes, attention quickly turned to LAFC, which just so happens to be Orange County’s MLS affiliate. By the end of the week, there were rumors circulating publicly that Honda could be a Designated Player signing for the 2018 expansion team. Whether those will come to pass remains to be seen.
So Orange County SC’s profile got a major boost with Honda’s presence this week. The star power will continue on Saturday, as OCSC host Phoenix Rising FC at Orange County Great Park for the teams’ first meeting of the season.
The timing is perhaps bittersweet for OC, as they’re set to welcome the likes of Didier Drogba, Omar Bravo and Shaun Wright-Phillips, visitors who are truly moving the dial locally as far as attention on the game, but the trade-off is that Orange County’s test will be considerably difficult than it might have been earlier in the season, when Phoenix struggled to find consistent results before head coach Frank Yallop resigned suddenly and Drogba worked his way into match fitness.
Even so, while Drogba has made an impact on the field as well as off for Phoenix Rising, the Arizona side come into the game winless in their last four league games. They’re above OC in the Western Conference standings, but a win in this game for the hosts would put them just a point back with three games in hand, so it’s a pretty important showdown.
Of course, Orange County will be shorthanded, as Ami Pineda and Jerry van Ewijk were handed long bans by USL for their role in an on-field fight last week. Pineda received a six-game suspension and van Ewijk five games, so neither player will feature until August. Whether the remaining players can pick up the slack is a question, but it is an opportunity for them with the duo out of the lineup for a month.