San Diego soccer fans have been pining for a Major League Soccer franchise for years. While that dream may still be a long way off, another version of professional outdoor soccer may be returning soon, and it could lay the foundation for MLS in San Diego.
According to multiple sources close to the situation, the United Soccer League (USL), one of the top professional leagues in America, is negotiating to put an expansion franchise in San Diego. It’s possible the new team could start play as early as April of 2017.
The USL is not ready to formally announce a new team in San Diego but does want to have a presence in America’s Finest City.
“San Diego is a thriving market with a millennial population and considerable interest in soccer,” said John Griffin, Vice President of Communications for the USL. “The USL’s recent success is built on three core tenets: strong local ownership, an attractive market and plans for a soccer-specific stadium. Those three tenets will position our teams and the league for long-term success.”
The first two components would seem to be easy to fulfill. San Diego has consistently ranked among the top markets for World Cup soccer ratings and has a passionate fan base. The Club Tijuana Xolos of Liga MX also have a strong following north of the border.
Just this year San Diego saw a pair of National Premiere Soccer League (NPSL) teams start play, the Albion Pros SC and North County Battalion. Both are enjoying successful inaugural seasons on the field and in the stands. It’s the third part of the equation that may be the sticking point.
The USL has had discussions with the University of San Diego to potentially play home games for at least the inaugural season at Torero Stadium, a facility that has hosted the College Cup and the USA Women’s National Team. Of course, the league has eyes on what happens in the November, 2016 election and the potential vote on a new Downtown stadium for the San Diego Chargers.
The USL would like to have a soccer-specific stadium to eventually move in to, which could be possible when the Chargers move out of Mission Valley (either Downtown or to Inglewood). Former Padres owner John Moores and his JMI Realty have already offered a plan for redeveloping the Qualcomm Stadium site, including the construction of a new, smaller stadium that could host a professional soccer team and the Aztecs football team.
If the USL ultimately decides not to come to San Diego, it will likely be because of this final stadium hurdle. If they do eventually come, the MLS is very likely not far behind. Several USL teams are affiliated with Major League Soccer franchises. Current Major League Soccer club Orlando City SC was able to successfully transition from the USL to MLS and is in the process of constructing a new, soccer-specific stadium. Orlando City is the model the potential San Diego franchise would follow closely.