With a new trophy in their case and a stadium ready to meet growing demand, the future is bright in southern California for one of the oldest clubs in the USL.
Their closest opponent in the league (USL Pro, the third tier of American soccer at the time) was the Dayton Dutch Lions and many predicted that the club would falter like so many other California teams that came before.
“We were the pioneers of the west,” recalled Blaine Jenks, one of the leaders of the County Line Coalition.
Blaine was one of the first supporters who joined as soon as the original Los Angeles Blues men’s side was founded. He had always been an LA Galaxy fan but as a self-described “local team” supporter, it was a natural fit when a new club started up in his backyard.
Bouncing around to watch the club at venues throughout the region, Blaine and a handful of other supporters would follow the team wherever they went, all the while working to build a community of supporters dedicated to Orange County Soccer Club – a tall order given all the options within just an hour of driving.
Sure, California is a well-known hotbed for soccer in the U.S., but there has never been a shortage of teams to support in the region. Sandwiched between Los Angeles and San Diego, Orange County Soccer Club has to compete with the likes of LAFC, San Diego Loyal, LA Galaxy, among a handful of other pro and amateur clubs. And that’s not even mentioning the clubs that have since come and gone over the past decade.
“It’s really crazy seeing where we came from,” smiled Blaine when looking back on the early days. “From playing at community colleges and high school fields, to now playing at Championship Soccer Stadium, it’s really special.”
Did you know: With an average attendance of just over 3,300 for 2021, Orange County SC sits right in the middle of USL Championship crowd numbers, a noteworthy feat given the club’s proximity to numerous other pro teams.
“There are so many sports to follow and it’s even harder here in southern California,” said Matt “Haggis” Szymanski, another early member of the County Line Coalition supporters group. “But once someone comes to a match, they almost always want to come back because of the atmosphere here at Championship Soccer Stadium.”
That’s what makes the new stadium so important for the club and the community.
Since 2017, the same year the club changed its name to Orange County Soccer Club, the team has called the state-of-the-art Championship Soccer Stadium home.
With beach volleyball courts on one side and dozens of soccer fields on the other, the stadium screams SoCal. Before each match, it’s not uncommon to see groups of sunkissed Californians diving across the sand to save a ball amid the backdrop of the Irvine’s soccer-specific stadium.
Inside the venue, the matchday experience equally matches the fun-loving, laid back culture found throughout California. Some fans support the team from the lounge-style suites overlooking the field, while others stand in the north end with the rowdy County Line Coalition supporters group.
“It’s organized chaos in our section,” explained Haggis.
Whereas many supporter groups in the U.S. have official songs sheets and an established process for chants, the County Line Coalition members often take their cues from whoever has the most energy on a given night. Because the group is still growing, new chants have the ability to take hold organically and everyone’s unique style shines through.
Haggis is always there with his wig, bugle, and cowbell. Blaine is either holding a baby or losing his voice (…or both). And others paint their faces or don orange and blue masks.
Together, they are one of the main reasons why Orange County SC has succeeded where so many others have failed.
For Blaine and his fellow County Line Coalition supporters, the club’s modest beginnings make their current success all the more special.
“It’s all kind of a dream,” shared Blaine. “Now we’re on an upward trajectory and it’s so great for us supporters.”