|Full name||San Diego Football Club|
|Founded||May 18, 2023|
San Diego, California
|League||Major League Soccer|
San Diego Football Club is an American soccer team based in San Diego, California. It is scheduled to enter Major League Soccer (MLS) as an expansion team in 2025 and will play home matches at Snapdragon Stadium, a multi-use venue built in 2022. The franchise's ownership group is led by British-Egyptian businessman Mohamed Mansour and the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation, a federally recognized Indian tribe. They were awarded an expansion team on May 18, 2023; the team will be the 30th in MLS.
First-division soccer in San Diego
San Diego's earliest professional soccer team was the short-lived San Diego Toros, a North American Soccer League (NASL) team that relocated from Los Angeles in 1968 and played a single season. A second NASL team, the San Diego Jaws, was established in 1976 from the former Baltimore Comets and played one year before moving to Las Vegas; the franchise returned in 1978 and were renamed the Sockers, playing outdoor matches at Jack Murphy Stadium, which was shared with the National Football League's San Diego Chargers and Major League Baseball's San Diego Padres. The Sockers had poor attendance but survived the folding of the NASL by moving to the Major Indoor Soccer League, where they won eight championships in nine seasons. The team moved to the Continental Indoor Soccer League in 1993 and folded in 1997; the name was later revived for a second indoor team from 2001 to 2004 and a third indoor team that began play in 2009. Other outdoor teams, including the San Diego Flash and San Diego 1904 FC, had played short stints in the lower divisions of American soccer in the 2000s and 2010s before folding.
Previous MLS bids
During the formation of MLS in the mid-1990s, San Diego was not among the U.S. cities to formally submit a bid for a team in the inaugural season, but expressed interest and held several meetings with the league. MLS commissioner Doug Logan described San Diego as a "prime candidate" for an expansion team, but the city's lack of a suitable stadium to accommodate soccer was a "major hurdle"; at the time, Jack Murphy Stadium was shared with the Padres and had a larger capacity than the league's desired size. The renovated Jack Murphy Stadium (renamed to Qualcomm Stadium) hosted several exhibition matches as well as the 1999 MLS All-Star Game, which drew an attendance of 23,277; it was the only MLS All-Star Game to be played outside of an active or future MLS market.
Following the approval of plans to build a downtown ballpark for the Padres, the MLS expansion committee voiced their support of a potential team playing at Qualcomm Stadium—either permanently or until a soccer-specific stadium was built. The San Diego market was considered for Chivas USA, an MLS expansion team that would serve as a reserve team for C.D. Guadalajara of the Mexican Primera División. The team instead chose to share its home venue with the LA Galaxy in Carson, California, and played for ten seasons before folding due to low attendance and ownership issues. The league continued to list San Diego as a potential candidate for expansion and negotiated with several interested investor groups, but the lack of a suitable stadium prevented further consideration. Balboa Stadium, the 1960s home of the Chargers and Jaws, was also mentioned as a potential site for a smaller stadium built for an MLS team.
A new team across the Mexican border, Club Tijuana (nicknamed the Xolos), was founded in 2007 and promoted to Liga MX—Mexico's top-flight league—in 2011. The team attracted support from fans in San Diego—about 20 miles (32 km) north of their home stadium—and played several exhibition matches in the area at various venues, including Qualcomm Stadium and the Padres' Petco Park. San Diego also remained one of the top U.S. viewing markets for television broadcasts of the FIFA World Cup, Premier League, and other overseas soccer competitions. The area had also produced several prominent players for the United States men's and women's national teams.
The San Diego Chargers announced plans to relocate to the Los Angeles area in 2015 while it also pursued a new downtown San Diego stadium, which required voter approval but was rejected. The team's departure was made official in early 2017 and opened an opportunity for a new MLS expansion bid to be led by businessman Mike Stone with several other investors, including Padres owner Peter Seidler and former soccer player Landon Donovan. A separate bid from former Padres owner John Moores—who had shown interest in an MLS team in the 1990s—and an unspecified Premier League team was withdrawn a year earlier. The Stones bid proposed a redevelopment of the Qualcomm Stadium site named "SoccerCity" that would include mixed-use development and a park surrounding a stadium shared with San Diego State University (SDSU)'s athletic teams, known as the Aztecs. The stadium would seat 20,000 to 32,000 spectators and cost $200 million to construct. A separate proposal from SDSU, named SDSU West, was announced and placed on the same November 2018 ballot; SoccerCity was defeated with 30 percent of votes, while SDSU West earned 55 percent approval.
A second-division team, San Diego Loyal SC, was established by Warren Smith and Landon Donovan in 2019 and began play the following year in the USL Championship at Torero Stadium. The team also showed interest in launching an MLS expansion with other partners, but were not part of any later bids. The SDSU West stadium, named Snapdragon Stadium, opened in 2022 and became the home of San Diego Wave FC, a National Women's Soccer League expansion team that moved from Torero Stadium. The team set several U.S. women's soccer attendance records in their first season and drew 32,000 fans at their new stadium. Several investor groups also approached SDSU to launch a MLS expansion team that would play at Snapdragon Stadium with financial concessions requested by the league. A separate proposal to build a mixed-use residential and hotel district in the suburb of Chula Vista with a soccer-specific stadium was announced in April 2023 by Petra Development Group and outside investors.
The Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation, a federally recognized Indian tribe and operators of local entertainment venues, began looking for opportunities to invest in sports ownership in December 2020. They partnered with developer Brad Termini to bid for an MLS expansion team the following year and searched for a major financial partner with help from the league. The Sycuan Tribe contacted the Mansour Group, led by businessman Mohamed Mansour, who joined the bid in late 2022. In October 2022, The San Diego Union-Tribune reported that the proposed team would require an agreement with SDSU to use Snapdragon Stadium. The San Diego competed with proposals from Las Vegas, who had previously been described as the "favorite" to become the 30th MLS team; the primary Las Vegas bid, led by Wes Edens and Nassef Sawiris, who co-owned Aston Villa F.C. in the Premier League, included a conceptual indoor stadium.
On May 18, 2023, at a Snapdragon Stadium event, MLS announced that the expansion team had been awarded to San Diego and would be owned by Mansour and the Sycuan Tribe. The ownership group paid a $500 million expansion fee according to media reports. Within a day, a total of 5,000 season ticket deposits had been sold. The team is scheduled to begin play in 2025, giving the state of California four clubs in the league.
The team unveiled their name, San Diego Football Club, and crest at Snapdragon Stadium on October 20, 2023. The crest comprises a shield in the club's official colors—chrome and azul—surrounded by a gradient band of blue, red, orange, and yellow. At the center of the shield is a circular design, named "The Flow", with 18 lines that represent the 18 cities of San Diego County. At the top of the shield is an arch with the "San Diego" wordmark, representing monumental signs that adorn the city's neighborhoods.
San Diego FC contracted with Pupila, a Costa Rican design consultant, to develop the club's identity. A series of secondary logos with "The Flow" and an "SD" wordmark were also part of the unveiling. San Diego FC had been used as a working name and placeholder at the time of the expansion announcement in May 2023; they are the eleventh team in MLS to use the "FC" suffix. The name and crest were leaked by The Athletic a day prior to the event and both garnered a generally negative reception online.
Stadium and facilities
San Diego FC will play home matches at Snapdragon Stadium, a 35,000-seat outdoor venue that opened in 2022 at the former site of Qualcomm Stadium. The stadium is adjacent to the SDSU Mission Valley campus and is used by the university for their college football and soccer games. It is also home to San Diego Wave FC of the National Women's Soccer League and the San Diego Legion of Major League Rugby. A series of international friendlies, as well as a 2023 CONCACAF Gold Cup semifinal, are scheduled to be played at the stadium in mid-2023. Snapdragon Stadium was built to soccer specifications with various fixtures that meet MLS standards; the stadium's seating capacity is larger than most soccer-specific stadiums, but lacks a roof or other weather protection.
The team's headquarters and training facilities are planned to be constructed on a 28-acre (11 ha) site adjacent to the Singing Hills Golf Resort on the Sycuan Reservation east of El Cajon. The campus would be shared with the Right to Dream youth academy centered around a 50,000 square feet (4,600 m2) building with five full-size fields and one half field. The former Singing Hills Hotel will be renovated into dormitories for academy players and staff. Construction began in November 2023 and is scheduled to be completed by 2025, with the first academy programs beginning late that year.
Ownership and management
The team is owned by Mohamed Mansour, a British-Egyptian businessman and politician, and the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation. The Mansour Group also owns Danish club FC Nordsjælland and the Right to Dream Academy, which has facilities in Ghana, Egypt, and Denmark. A branch of the Right to Dream Academy is planned to be opened in El Cajon with residential facilities for 120 to 160 players, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune. The Sycuan Band are the first Native American tribe to own part of a professional soccer team in the United States and the second to have an ownership stake in any professional sports team after the Mohegan Tribe in Connecticut. The ownership group also includes Padres player Manny Machado, developer Brad Termini, and several Right to Dream executives. Tom Penn was named the club's chief executive officer on May 18, 2023; he was previously president of Los Angeles FC. No head coach has yet been announced for the club.
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