NASL Announces California Expansion Team

By JAKE NUTTING

imagesThe North American Soccer League announced on Wednesday its first expansion team since surviving a tumultuous off-season that nearly caused it to cease operation.

Orange County will be home to the NASL’s second team on the West Coast starting in 2018, following in the path of this year’s newcomer, the San Francisco Deltas.

The restaurant entrepreneur Pete Capriotti is the principal owner the new team. Capriotti is currently a major financial backer of Los Angeles Wolves in the United Premier Soccer League. The Wolves name was a part of the original NASL in the 1970s, though the expansion announcement noted that Capriotti’s group is considering other names for the new team.

“Soccer has always been a family affair in our house – we all love it,” Capriotti said. “I’m a big fan and supporter of local, grassroots soccer and that’s what this club will represent. It will unite a base of soccer fans who are passionate about the quality of play and experiencing something fun and entertaining. We’re going to find talented players and help develop their careers, while building a championship team that the fans can be proud of.”

The former United States national team player Eric Wynlada is believed to be interested in coaching the new club. Wynalda briefly coached the Atlanta Silverbacks when they was part of the NASL, splitting time between the team and his duties as an analyst for Fox Sports.

The coaching vacany is open for the moment, but Capriotti has already secured a home stadium for his team. Titan Stadium at California State University, Fullerton will host the new team. The 10,000-seat stadium is home base of the school’s soccer programs.

Finalizing the expansion process in Orange County is a positive step for the NASL, officials said. After losing four teams in the off-season either to defection to the United Soccer League or financial struggles, the league must rebuild its numbers to persuade the U.S. Soccer Federation that it should keep its Division II sanction.

“On behalf of our board of governors, it’s an absolute pleasure to welcome Pete Capriotti and soccer fans in Orange County to the NASL,” Rishi Sehgal, the league’s interim commissioner, said in a statement. “We’re thrilled that such a fantastic market will join the league and we have been impressed with Pete’s vision, passion for soccer, and overall business leadership. The club will be an exciting addition to the league.”

Orange County is already the home to one professional team. Orange County SC, rebranded from the the Orange County Blues this past off-season. It has been around since 2013 and recently hosted its first match at the new 5,000-seat Orange County Great Park Stadium in Irvine, Calif.

“When I decided I wanted to become an owner, the NASL business model was the only one that appealed to me,” Capriotti said. “I like the freedom the NASL gives each club, and the fact that each club owns its player registrations. Overall, I was really impressed with the way the NASL approached our conversations and the amount of detail and overall care they dedicated to the process.”