Sports teams surface in San Diego
In Chargers’ absence, professional soccer and lacrosse are headed to America’s Finest City in 2018
Noah Hilton | Sports Editor | The USD Vista
To the naked eye, San Diego would seem to be a prime location for professional sports. Between the year-round sunshine and the large vacancy left by the relocation of the National Football League’s Chargers, the city presents an opportunity for leagues across the country to expand. As a result, many wealthy investors have spent the last nine months clamoring for a spot at the city’s sports table, in hopes of putting together a proposal worth heavy consideration from league executives.
The result has been a handful of impending additions to the city’s roster of teams, offering affordable and fresh entertainment options for local fans.
The first domino to fall was the North American Soccer League (NASL). Currently an eight-team organization with franchises in Canada, Puerto Rico, and across the United States, the league will add two teams in 2018 in Fullerton, California as well as here in San Diego.
The additions come even as the league struggles with a demotion to the country’s third tier of professional soccer and the consequential concerns about league-wide demand and financial longevity.
San Diego has long been recognized as a market in prime position to add a pro soccer franchise. Research earlier this year by national demographics company Esri demonstrated as much, showing that San Diego has the highest on-field participation and the highest television viewership of the 12 aspiring soccer markets involved in the study.
Given the local buzz around the beautiful game in San Diego, the initial announcement from the league generated excitement around town despite the NASL’s long-term outlook.
USD senior Bryce Henry described his enthusiasm about the team’s debut.
“I’m actually really excited,” Henry said. “I know it’s not going to be super high quality compared to the Premier League or any other European league, but it’ll be great to have a San Diego team.”
The team will be named 1904 F.C., a reference to the locations of the letters “S” (19th) and “D” (4th) in the alphabet.
Others have wondered if the name may have also been influenced by the movie “Anchorman,” a Will Ferrell film set in San Diego. In the film, Ferrell incorrectly mentions that the city was first discovered by the Germans in 1904.
Henry said he was puzzled when he first heard the team’s name.
“At first I was confused, but then I did a little bit of research and found out the team is essentially SD FC,” Henry said. “It’s a little cheesy but I like it, it’s simple. For me, the potential ‘Anchorman’ reference doesn’t really matter either. It’s better than Footy McFooty Face [the name proposed by a public vote for the city’s potential MLS team].”
The club’s ownership group is headlined by a handful of members of international soccer royalty, as all four of the team’s founders have extensive experience around the world when it comes to soccer.
The group is headlined by Senegal striker Demba Ba, who starred for Chelsea and Newcastle United in the English Premier League, and Ba’s former Chelsea teammate, Belgian midfielder Eden Hazard. That duo is accompanied by Frenchman Yohan Cabaye, a midfielder for Crystal Palace, and French striker Moussa Sow.
Those four announced last week that they will be joined in the front office by Alexandre Gontran, a French coach credited with developing Ba as a youngster. Gontran will serve as the team’s general manager and director of soccer operations, and will be tasked with helping to build 1904 F.C.’s inaugural roster.
Accompanying the announcement of Gontran’s hiring was a decision regarding where the team will play its matches.
Currently, the team is slated to move into a 10,000-seat stadium at El Corazon Park in Oceanside in 2019. While the team’s eventual North County home is under construction, though, 1904 F.C. will introduce itself to locals in Torero Stadium on the University of San Diego’s campus.
Given the excitement surrounding the team and the ease of accessibility for students on campus, 1904 F.C.’s debut season could provide a ready source of entertainment for fans like Henry.
“This city has a lot of people who enjoy soccer and we will easily sell out the stadium at USD,” Henry said. “It should be a great atmosphere.”
Senior Alec Weber agreed with Henry, noting the potential for the team to rise from its current level of the game through a restructuring of the American soccer system.
“Soccer is the fastest growing sport in the US and I think that San Diego is a great market for the sport,” Weber said. “I’m even more excited because now that the men’s national team isn’t going to the World Cup [the team was eliminated by Trinidad and Tobago during the tournament’s qualifying stages], I expect there to be a reshuffling of MLS and the NASL to include promotion and relegation. So for all we know, 1904 F.C. could eventually become an MLS team.”
Those without an interest in soccer, however, will have another fresh option next year in the San Diego Seals, a professional indoor lacrosse team founded by Chinese billionaire Joe Tsai.
The Seals will be the National Lacrosse League’s (NLL) tenth franchise, with the league adding another franchise in Philadelphia alongside the Seals and expressing plans to add yet another by the time San Diego and Philadelphia begin play next December.
NLL commissioner Nick Sakiewicz has told national media outlets that he hopes to expand the league to include 30 or more teams over the next decade.
Despite those ambitions, the league has historical hurdles out west that it will try to clear through America’s Finest City. After the Arizona Sting folded in 2007 following unsuccessful attempts by the league to catch on in Anaheim and San Jose, the NLL left the southwest to its own devices. The addition in San Diego will be the league’s first attempt at a re-entry into the region since then.
While those concerns can be counteracted to some extent by the local popularity of the sport (especially at the high school level), the fact remains that the success of the Seals, who will play their home games at the Valley View Casino Center, will hinge on breaking from precedent.
Grant Sampson, the captain of USD’s club lacrosse team, likes their chances.
“Yeah, I honestly think that San Diego will be different,” Sampson said. “People really just want something to cheer for. Take the Gulls, for example. I wasn’t familiar with hockey, but I went because I love the electric feeling of cheering for the home team. I think a lot of people will feel the same way about the Seals.”
Others such as senior Justin Braun are also intrigued by the inclusion of the Seals in the local sports scene, despite the lack of immediate fanfare surrounding the franchise’s unveiling.
“I honestly hadn’t heard about it until now,” Braun said. “I think [the Seals] could be successful though. With the Chargers leaving, people will be looking for teams to root for, especially if those teams end up winning often.”
Ultimately, San Diego sports fans looking to replace their longtime football franchise will at the very least be presented with alternative options come 2018.
Only the most optimistic of fans could guess that the city would be capable of adding a team in a major sport so quickly after the Bolts’ departure. It remains to be seen, though, whether these fringe franchises might be capable of filling some of that void themselves.