Full disclosure: I don’t like San Diego sports fans that much. Their fan base seems to be completely fueled by envy of all things Los Angeles and Oakland. If you don’t believe me, ask about the Padres chances and you’ll get a 30-minute screed about how much they hate the Dodgers for their wealth.
The Chargers? Ask a San Diego fan about them and you’ll get an even longer gripefest about the team moving to Los Angeles. Funny thing, San Diego has a lengthy history of losing games and teams to Los Angeles.
But I willingly concede that San Diego is a soccer town. I can’t explain why, but the city used to fill Qualcomm Stadium — a feat the Padres and Chargers couldn’t do — with a soccer team back in the 1970s-80s. The San Diego Sockers kept the old North American Soccer League afloat for years.
San Diego, in my opinion, could support a Major League Soccer team in its sleep. The town should’ve gotten Chivas USA back in the 1990s, only the team and league made a foolish decision of sharing a stadium with the LA Galaxy. Chivas stunk, lost its fan base because LA wasn’t going to support the worst of two soccer teams, and folded.
But San Diego would have enthusiastically supported mediocre soccer. It did before.
MLS has been expanding at a clip that I think is way too fast. Next year, Atlanta United and Minnesota United jump in to grow the league to 22 teams. A year later, the league will try to shoehorn a second franchise in LA again. David Beckham has supposedly been promised an expansion franchise for playing here. He wants it in Miami. That’s 24.
MLS envisions 28 teams eventually in the fold. Keep in mind how stupid this is: the English Premier League, arguably the elite league in the world, has only 20 teams. Serie A in Italy has the same. Bundesliga in Germany has 18.
That leaves four slots left with groups in Tampa, Fla.; Charlotte, N.C.; Cincinnati; Detroit; Nashville; Raleigh-Durham, N.C.; Sacramento; St. Louis; San Antonio and San Diego wanting in.
San Diego would, in normal circumstances, be a wise choice. To be frank, I still believe the city should’ve gotten the second Los Angeles team. The rivalry would have been amazing. San Diego would have drawn fans not just from the area, but neighboring Mexico. The Galaxy are to MLS what the Dallas Cowboys are to the NFL.
It’s not happening.
I don’t see California getting five teams, and Sacramento Republic FC already leads the lower-division United Soccer League in attendance with plans for a larger stadium in place if MLS OKs their plans.
The league has been wowed by the fan base for Orlando City SC, which makes the Tampa Bay Rowdies bid intriguing. And obviously I’ve no way to give a first-hand account, but a lower-division team in Cincinnati is averaging about 18,000 fans per game.
San Diego, meanwhile, has a reputation — a well-deserved one — but it’s not enough compared with the ticket stubs that these other cities can provide. According to a recent article in the San Diego Union-Tribune, the hearty souls who want a team will have to pony up a $150 million franchise fee and build a $250 million soccer specific stadium before 2020. MLS, as it turns out, won’t settle for Qualcomm Stadium any more than the Chargers will.
Or even better, somebody at MLS will come to his senses and say “Wait a minute, we’re going to have eight more teams than the best league on earth,” and stop expanding before it reaches 28.
The upshot is this: Major League Soccer has made more than its share of idiotic decisions, but they are decisions the league will have to live with. It’s nothing personal. It’s just stupidity. For professional soccer, San Diego is the right place at the wrong time.