After decades of rumors, Major League Soccer (MLS) is finally coming to San Diego. On May 18, 2023, the MLS announced that the league’s next expansion team had been awarded to San Diego with Mohamed Mansour — a British-Egyptian billionaire — and the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation as co-owners of the team.
For decades, San Diego sports fans have been subjected to constant pain. In 1984, the San Diego Clippers controversially moved to Los Angeles. 33 years later, the San Diego Chargers followed the Clippers up to Los Angeles.
This left the San Diego Padres as the lone major league sports team in the city. To capitalize on this, the Padres recently stepped up their spending to show that San Diego could compete with larger market teams. This endeared the Padres to San Diego sports fans, which resulted in the team selling out a franchise-record 58 of their 81 home games during the 2023 season. To the surprise of sports fans outside of San Diego, the Padres were third in the MLB in attendance in 2023 behind the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers.
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On top of that, the San Diego Wave joined the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) as an expansion team in 2022 and quickly became one of the most popular teams in the league, powered by U.S. Women’s National Team stars Alex Morgan, Naomi Girma and Jaedyn Shaw. The team averaged 20,718 in attendance in 2023, which was the most in the NWSL. Also, the Wave set a single-game NWSL attendance record with 32,000 fans in 2022.
The fan response to the Padres and Wave’s recent success shows that San Diego sports fans are willing to fill the stands when their city’s teams have a front office and owners who are willing to put a winning product on the field and connect with their fans. Losing the Chargers was painful for San Diego sports fans, and many fans are excited that a new major league sports team is coming to town.
San Diego FC CEO Tom Penn tells DIRECTV, “We have been engaging with the San Diego audience for nearly a year, and we have heard a consistent expression of passion and excitement for a new MLS club in San Diego. From the beach to the mountains, from North County to the South Bay, San Diegans are fired up for SDFC. We are working closely with our supporters and members to create a football club that is reflective of San Diego County.”
And while many San Diego sports fans are thrilled that the MLS is finally coming to town, the announcement was also difficult for some of the city’s soccer fans. The San Diego Loyal, a club playing in the USL Championship (the second tier of pro soccer in the United States), made the difficult decision to shut down operations in August 2023. The club was co-founded by U.S. soccer legend Landon Donovan and Warren Smith in 2019, and they helped create a passionate fanbase during their four years of competition in the USL Championship.
San Diego sports fan Aileen Burns says, “My initial reaction to San Diego receiving an MLS team was mixed. It was something the soccer community here had desired and worked toward for so long. After the door was shut on us [in 2018 when San Diego voted against the SoccerCity initiative on the ballot], Landon Donovan, Warren Smith and Andrew Vassiliadis brought the Loyal to life for our city.”
The impact of the Loyal on San Diego soccer fans cannot be understated. It might take a while to convert all of the Loyal fans to San Diego FC fans, but the organization is trying its best to make that happen. In addition to their ongoing efforts to connect with the San Diego community, San Diego FC is looking to be viewed as more than just a soccer club. “Our vision is to become the epicenter of football excellence and innovation in North America,” says Penn. “You can expect unprecedented investment in the development of the best young players in America and Mexico. We are building our $150 million campus that includes our Right to Dream youth academy.”
“Over the next five years, our academy will come alive and be integrated with our MLS first team,” adds Penn. “We expect to field a competitive team in the early years that will fill Snapdragon Stadium and be a source of pride for all of San Diego.”
On December 13, 2023, San Diego FC showed their dedication to fostering homegrown talent when they signed 17-year-old goalkeeper Duran Ferree from Del Norte High School in Del Sur (a San Diego suburb) as the club’s first-ever player. Previously, Ferree was a San Diego Loyal player and was signed by the USL Championship club when he was just 15 years old. Ferree says, “I’m honored to sign with my new hometown club. To be part of San Diego soccer history and play for my home city is beyond my wildest dreams. This is a testament to all the hard work I’ve put in to get here and is everything I’ve been working towards.”
After the Chargers left town, San Diego sports fans were unfairly judged by the rest of the country as fans who didn’t seem to care much about sports. However, after San Diego’s impressive support for the Padres, Wave and Loyal, it’s clear that San Diego loves sports teams who care about the city and have a dedication to putting a winning team on the field (or pitch). It’s going to be a lot of fun watching a jam-packed stadium cheering on San Diego FC when they kick off their inaugural season in 2025.
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