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U.S. youth GK Aaron Cervantes joins Scottish side Rangers

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United States U-17 international and Orange County SC goalkeeper Aaron Cervantes has been transferred to Scottish Premiership side Rangers FC, the player confirmed to ESPN.

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Cervantes, 18, has spent the last three seasons with OCSC in the USL Championship in the second tier of U.S. soccer system. He made his debut as a 17-year-old on March 23, 2019 in a league match against New Mexico United. Cervantes made a total of 18 league and cup appearances with Orange County, a spell that was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Cervantes was also part of the U.S. side that took part at the 2019 FIFA U-17 World Cup, though he didn't get on the field during that tournament.

"I'm super excited about the move," Cervantes told ESPN. "It's a new chapter. I went there last December to train. I got along with the guys and I really see myself fitting in well there."

The two clubs have a partnership agreement that has seen Rangers players being loaned to Orange County. Cervantes' transfer is the first instance of a player headed the other way. Oliver Wyss, Orange County's GM and president of soccer operations said that if Cervantes hits all of his milestones, the fee OCSC collects could result in a "high six-figure deal." But he added that Orange County will receive a percentage of any future transfer and that is where they hope any financial windfall will come from.

"This is truly landmark moment, a proud moment for everybody at Orange County to move Aaron to Rangers FC," Oliver Wyss -- OCSC's president of soccer operations and GM -- told ESPN. "Obviously Rangers FC is a massive club, a historic club, and they are a partner club of ours. By the end of the day, they're not signing players just because of the partnership. They're signing players who they think are good enough."

In a prepared statement, Rangers Head of Academy, Craig Mulholland, indicated that the plan for Cervantes is for him to be loaned to a team in Europe some time during the current season. In the meantime, while Cervantes is officially a Rangers player, he'll continue to train with Orange County, due in part to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

"We are delighted to welcome Aaron to Rangers and have enjoyed watching his excellent progress with our partners at Orange County," said Mulholland. "He has been exposed at an early age to first team football and will now continue this with a loan in Europe as part of this creative agreement."

Cervantes recalls he first starting playing in goal at age six, when his father, Chris, suggested that he start playing there. The younger Cervantes then spent time in the academies of the LA Galaxy and Pateadores SC in Costa Mesa, Calif., before signing his first pro deal with Orange County as a 15-year-old back in 2018, He described the transition to the pro game as "a big, life shock."

"I think one of the biggest things I learned was being as sharp as you can in training or else you're going to get chewed out by the veterans," he said. "You've got to be spot on."

Cervantes feels the experience he accumulated in the USL will prepare him for the next step.

"I just got my games and I saw different situations. I saw how to deal with them," he said. "I made my mistakes. I learned how to change those mistakes and make sure I didn't make them again. I think it was games and the minutes I [played] that taught me the most; reading the game, different types of shots. Maybe the pressure, how to play with my feet a little bit better, my decision making, how to communicate just all different types of game scenarios."

While Cervantes noted that the December chill of Glasgow is something he'll need to get used to, he was impressed by the environment at Rangers.

"We went to the stadium, we watched a game and the environment was just out of control," said Cervantes. "It's world class. It's one of the biggest clubs in the world. The fans there, they pay to see performances, and if you're not performing, they'll get on top of you. It's a crazy environment."

The visit was a chance for Cervantes to show as well, and he did plenty to impress the Rangers hierarchy, especially in a friendly with the club's U-18 team.

"The one thing that really stood out to them, when you train with them and play the game for them, is his professionalism, and he's very mature for being 18 years old," said Wyss. "And Rangers put a lot on the mentality of a player. You talk to a Rangers player there's a certain pride about the club. There's the culture that they represent. They saw that in Aaron as well."