Major League Soccer (MLS) may or may not be coming to San Diego, but the North American Soccer League (NASL) is stepping up and awarding San Diego an expansion franchise.
San Diego NASL is backed by an ownership group led by four global soccer stars: Demba Ba, Eden Hazard, Yohan Cabaye, and Moussa Sow. The players have partnered with local business executives to bring this second-tier professional soccer league to San Diego.
Bob Watkins, a longtime San Diegan and successful businessman, will serve as the club’s president.
"It’s an absolute honor to bring professional soccer to San Diego County," said Watkins, who recently secured the league’s approval of the expansion club. "The international soccer stars driving this effort to give us an excellent foundation from which to build. We will be an exciting club to watch - you can count on that. We intend to develop local talent, helping young children realize their dreams of playing professional soccer, and we intend to help San Diego become a soccer capital known around the world."
San Diego NASL is currently developing its name and logo and expects to unveil its branding at an event in the coming months. The club has already rolled out SanDiegoNASL.com.
So when do the games begin?
San Diego will begin playing NASL games come Spring of 2018.
In its inaugural season, the team will play at University of San Diego (USD) Torero Stadium.
After that, the team plans to move to a North County location. Watkins said the team is currently scouting locations across the area. San Marcos, Oceanside, Escondido, Poway, Del Mar and other cities are potential landing spots for San Diego NASL.
“We’re looking for an area that’s passionate about soccer, that can bring the diversity that we need to be able to have a diverse population who are interested in what we do from a community point of view but are equally passionate about the game. We’re going to do this with the communities, we want them to be engaged with us from a partner point of view,” said Watkins in an interview with NBC 7.
As for the stadium, the plan is for a modular stadium to be built off-sight, shipped in sections, then assembled at the teams new North County home.
“We are going to build a ten thousand seat facility that’s expandable to fifteen thousand, so as the market grows we’ll grow with it,” said Watkins.
Watkins said he wants San Diego NASL to have exchanges with the Tijuana Xolos and believes that MLS will eventually come to San Diego, calling it “inevitable.”
When asked if he is concerned about competing with MLS and other soccer entities in San Diego, Watkins said, “If you look at it in a general business sense, if you’ve got 4 corners in a real estate area and there’s only one gas station not many people come, but if you put two, three or four, a lot more people come. So we see this as an opportunity for soccer to be more attractive to a larger group of people and it’s just that simple.”
Increasingly, professional soccer leagues in North America face questions about their financial viability. When asked if San Diego NASL would be profitable, Watkins responded, “We’re looking to break even at best at the end of our second year.”
As the NASL’s tenth club, San Diego is the latest to join the league’s West Coast expansion movement. The San Francisco Deltas kicked off their inaugural season earlier this year, and a new club in Orange County, which will take the field in the Spring of 2018, was announced last month.