Following an uproar from Orange County Soccer Club officials and fans concerned over the team’s long term use of Irvine’s Championship Soccer Stadium, city leaders on Tuesday approved a one-year extension to an agreement that will allow the club to play its 2023 season at the venue.
Soccer fans clad in the professional club’s bright orange uniform turned up at a City Council meeting Tuesday night, Sept. 13, to show their support for the team during a planned discussion on the future use of the stadium. The OCSC has had an agreement with the city since 2019, giving it access to the Championship Stadium for about 18 home games in exchange for fees.
The city also provides access to the stadium another 22 days out of the year for other professional teams, such as the California United Strikers FC, leaving about 80 days out of the year for the venue to be used for “non-professional sport team use,” a staff report said.
The agreement with OCSC, which was renewed in 2020, was set to automatically renew again this November for another two years unless axed.
The one-year extension approved Tuesday aims to bring some “certainty” for the soccer team ahead of its 2023 season, while city staffers considers options for long term use of the stadium after next year, Councilman Anthony Kuo said. City leaders expressed concern that the current agreement and stadium use by other professional teams doesn’t leave open enough dates for the community to access the venue.
A discussion that was planned for a City Council meeting last month was expected to touch on potential alternatives to the agreement with the OCSC once it ended this November, including one option to give access to the field to the LA Galaxy’s reserve team, Galaxy II, which would reduce the number of days the stadium would be available for other professional teams’ use.
The possibility prompted outrage by OCSC leaders and fans, with the team’s owner, James Keston, releasing a statement before the meeting saying the team was “100% Orange County proud and now under attack.”
Flyers with the same message were passed out during a home game days before the Aug. 9 meeting. The OCSC plays in the United Soccer League, which is a Division II league.
The City Council decided to remove the discussion from the meeting’s agenda that night.
Dan Rutstein, OCSC’s president of business operations, apologized to the council during Tuesday’s meeting for social media posts and emails from club fans that “crossed a line of what you would call civil discourse” and asked city leaders to allow the team to play its 2023 season “and perhaps beyond” at the Championship Stadium.
As part of the one-year extension, which was approved unanimously by the City Council, city staffers will work with the team to identify more days out of the year that the field can be made available for community use.
Club officials were pleased with the council’s decision. In a statement released Wednesday, club representatives called the extension “one of the most important victories in club history.”
“This is a victory for common sense, for community and for soccer fans everywhere – a message that local sports are important, that everyone’s voice matters and that the soccer club you are part of is here to stay in Irvine, in Orange County,” the statement, provided by the club’s spokesman Chad Romiti, said.
Irvine officials will also put together a plan to potentially replace the field’s natural grass with artificial turf, which, due to less maintenance required, would allow it to be used more days out of the year.
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