It was a nondescript black business folder. Not overly large. It was certainly nothing that you could not purchase at any office supply store in San Diego.
But what that folder held was anything but ordinary. Inside was the possibility of a new era of sports in America’s Finest City.
San Diego businessman Mike Stone stood on a dais on the deck of the USS Midway holding that folder and said the following words:
“With high hopes and great expectations we present our application to become MLS team number 25.”
With that he handed the folder to Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber, officially putting San Diego in the mix of what is one of the fastest-growing sports leagues in world.
In 1996 there were 10 MLS teams. Now, just two decades later, 12 cities are vying to be the league’s 25th franchise. Stone has been the driving force behind this idea, vowing to purchase a chunk of the 211-acre Mission Valley site where Qualcomm Stadium is located and build a privately-financed stadium for MLS and the San Diego State football program.
“Through my 30 years of business,” said Stone, “I’ve discovered there are very rarely ideas and opportunities that are simply too compelling to let go or pass up. We believe that MLS for San Diego is on that very short list of opportunities.”
San Diego has a lot of competition from places like Cincinnati, Sacramento, Tampa and St. Louis, all viable MLS markets. But hearing Garber speak it seemed like San Diego has a few options that might set it apart.
He outlined three things that MLS is looking for in an expansion city and checked off each box for SD:
“Passionate soccer fans first and foremost,” said Garber in front of many of the same fans who attended Sunday’s US Men’s National Team game against Serbia at The Q. “We saw that yesterday we see that today. Any city can really come out and support our league but it seems like we have something very special in San Diego.
“Second is a young and diverse city. Look around here, this is a young city that’s representing this new America that is driving the interest in our sport and that is something of great interest to us.
“And then you have a team just south of the border, the Xolos. We think we can have an unbelievable rivalry with the team just a couple of miles south of the border. That connection in Tijuana is something that we’re excited about.”
So all that sounds like this is a done deal right?
Not so fast.
There are still multiple obstacles to overcome, not the least of which is a new stadium. Garber says Mission Valley is something he has been talking to Stone and his group about. On Monday Garber was also planning to meet with former Mayor Jerry Sanders and members of the San Diego political structure.
It would appear that current Mayor Kevin Faulconer is on board.
Speaking at the event on Monday the Mayor, who was never truly able to get on the same page with the Chargers about a new stadium, seemed excited about the MLS proposal.
“As all of us know this proposal as it’s been presented so far is so much more than an opportunity for a professional sports team to be in our city,” said the Mayor. “It’s an opportunity to revitalize Mission Valley and become an economic driver that will help us pave streets, keep our neighborhoods safe, do all of the things that we do in this great city of ours.”
Here's an artistic rendering of the outside of the stadium:
And here were some fans who turned out for Monday's rally: