THE founder of Seacoast United is optimistic the link with Oxford United will evolve into a long-term partnership between the clubs.

The U’s are in the middle of their second pre-season tour to the United States, which is organised by Seacoast.

Paul Willis set the club up 20 years ago and it now has 10,000 members across a wide range of teams across New England.

The Newcastle-born coach believes this year’s tour has built on the success of the original trip 12 months ago and is confident the ties between the two clubs will continue to deepen.

He said: “Soccer over here is developing rapidly and the bar is constantly rising, so for us to have a connection with Oxford United and have them come over for pre-season takes it up a notch.

“It has an impact on our kids and their parents. They were buzzing on Tuesday night (for the opening game), some of the kids there had never seen anything like that before.

“To see someone like Michael Duberry, who has played for Chelsea, and get an autograph, it’s great.

“We’d really want to have coaching exchanges in a year or two and ultimately have a (Seacoast) player end up in the Oxford United side.

“But my big goal in all honesty is to be a club like Oxford United in the US. We have a top flight with clubs like LA Galaxy, but what we don’t have in this country is the depth of clubs.

“It’s going to come, it just takes time.”

Willis, 47, believes the partnership has benefits for everyone involved.

He said: “One of the reasons why I was keen on something with Oxford United is that it means a lot to both of us.

“I don’t think we would mean a great deal to a club like Manchester United, with all due respect.

“It definitely gives us a little bit more of a status to be able to bring a team over like Oxford United.”

Ex-U’s chairman Kelvin Thomas played a major role in setting up the links between the clubs, but it remains to be seen whether it will continue after he stepped down this month.

If Willis has his way the U’s will return, although it is unlikely to be next summer.