What’s next for San Diego sports?

The Los Angeles Chargers. If you haven’t already, take some time and say it out loud a few times. The Los Angeles Chargers are a reality, no longer relegated to a possibility or a “what if” scenario printed only in tabloids. This is not fake news. San Diego’s longtime team has fled town, leaving sports fans from Mission Beach to El Cajon with a football shaped void in their hearts, in need of another team to fill it.

Luckily, the sprawling sports kingdom of Southern California offers several options for those, like many of us, who use sports as an instance of temporary escape from the turbulent circumstances currently surrounding our country.

San Diego is still home to the Padres, who despite their uninspiring .472 winning percentage since the turn of the century, are brimming with potential. While Padres fans are surely growing tired of hype surrounding unproven prospects, the team ostensibly appears primed for a resurgence in the 2020s.

The team’s young crop of position players — Hunter Renfroe, Carlos Asuaje, Austin Hedges, and Manuel Margot — all represent shining glimpses of talent at ages 25 and under.

Each member of that quartet has also already logged time in the major leagues. 18-year-old right-handed pitcher Anderson Espinoza and 21-year-old shortstop Javier Guerra are considered among the crown jewels in the depths of the Padres’ minor league system.

Padres’ pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training on Feb. 14. Photo courtesy of San Diego Padres/Instagram

Both players were acquired in the last two years in separate trades that general manager AJ Preller orchestrated with the Boston Red Sox.

On paper, it’s easy to look at this promising young nucleus of hitters and draw comparisons to the collection of young players that boosted the Chicago Cubs to their 2016 World Series championship. Of course, the baby-faced Padres version will take time to develop, as did Cubs’ sluggers Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, and Addison Russell.

A seventh straight season of losing baseball is almost certainly on its way to San Diego this spring. But with the aforementioned crop of exciting players in their early 20s, along with the consistent offensive production of corner infielders Wil Myers and Yangervis Solarte, the San Diego Padres may have something resembling a winning baseball team in years to come. Most importantly, they also still have San Diego across the chest of their uniforms.

In terms of top shelf professional sports, the San Diego cupboard is bare apart from the Padres. Those who are dropping their allegiances to the now-departed Chargers could conceivably look north to find their fix of the four major sports.

For the fall and winter seasons that the Chargers’ season used to occupy, San Diegans have the option of adopting both the Los Angeles Clippers and Anaheim Ducks as reasonable fill-ins.

The San Diego connection is alive with both franchises. Both teams’ games are broadcasted on Fox Sports San Diego, giving those with a cable subscription an opportunity to tune in for the entire season of play for both the Clippers and Ducks.

The Clippers were in fact San Diego residents before sailing north to Los Angeles. In 1978, the National Basketball Association’s Buffalo Braves made a westward journey, landed in San Diego and renamed themselves the Clippers, giving the city its first and only NBA team.

The Ducks’ American Hockey League affiliate, the San Diego Gulls, serve as the team’s highest minor league team. They make their nest at nearby Valley View Casino, where home games have become an increasingly popular activity for college students, thanks to affordable ticket and beverage prices. Gulls games also offer the opportunity for Ducks followers to get firsthand views of the team’s best up-and-coming players.

Nick Ritchie, Joseph Cramarossa, and Ondrej Kase are all current members of the Ducks’ roster that have worn the Gulls sweater since the team’s inaugural season of 2015-16.

Looking forward, it also appears that the world’s football is more likely to be played in San Diego than the traditional American football that the Chargers played. In January, a group of private investors revealed their blueprint for bringing a major league soccer team to San Diego.

The squadron of investors also plan on building a new stadium where Qualcomm Stadium presently sits. This stadium would be shared with San Diego State University’s football team.

Nick Stone, one of the faces of the investor group, made a statement to the Denver Post regarding his feelings toward this possible MLS expansion.

“There were people who were disappointed [in the Chargers’ move] and understandably so,” Stone said. “But we think this is a really, really interesting time to look at the opportunity to bring soccer to San Diego. It’s a very logical market for that […]. We can bring what is the world’s most popular sport, and the fastest growing sport in the U.S. One door closed, but a really great door opened.”

San Diego’s soccer fervor was on display on Sunday, Jan. 29 when the United States men’s soccer team took on Serbia in a friendly match at Qualcomm Stadium. Featuring familiar faces from World Cups of yesteryear, including Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore, the USA settled for a 0-0 tie in front of an announced attendance north of 20,000 people.

The United States men’s national soccer team’s Jan. 29 match against Serbia could be a preview for what MLS in San Diego would look like. Photo courtesy of Hunter Levy

More important than the result on the field, though, was the collective enthusiasm for soccer displayed by the thousands of enthusiastic fans who packed the seats at Qualcomm just weeks after news broke that the Chargers would never play there again.

Several signs and banners littered the concourses advocating for an MLS team to make San Diego its permanent home.  A handful of students from the University of San Diego made their way east for the game as well.

Senior engineering student Craig Wade was among that group. A resident of Modesto, Calif. and longtime fan of the MLS’ San Jose Earthquakes, Wade was delighted by the turnout he saw from San Diego soccer fans.

“They announced on the scoreboard earlier that the attendance was over 20,000 people,” Wade said. “That’s pretty incredible. It’s no secret that football will always be more popular here, but from what I saw today, I think San Diego is more than ready to welcome and support an MLS team.”

At this point, with the Chargers’ ten toes down in Los Angeles, one of the only things left for San Diego sports fans to do is hope. Hope that the seeds of the Padres young roster bloom into a competitive team in the National League West.

Hope that the Gulls can build off their playoff success of last season and make another run in the AHL playoffs, while continuing to send players north for NHL success in Anaheim.

Additionally, no matter how bleak the situation may look now with one team fresh out the door, San Diego has hope for more teams in the future. If you buy into the hype from Sunday at Qualcomm Stadium, then there also is more than enough hope that premiere soccer will soon be part of the sporting landscape in a city that deserves it.

Written by Matthew Roberson, Sports Editor