For MLS, San Diego is the right place, wrong time

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.

Goodbye, LA Sports Arena, we didn’t know ye

This week, a guy climbed into one of those giant excavators, slammed its giant metal teeth into the roof of the Los Angeles Sports Arena, ripped opened a giant gash into the faded blue roof and the sports world reacted the same way I expect people to react to my death.

With nonchalance.

Eventually, a couple of reporters desperate to add copy to satisfy the 24-hour news cycle attempted to shed crocodile tears over the demise of a major arena that predates not just Staples Center, but every NBA and NHL arena currently in operation — including Madison Square Garden. And still, despite the golden prose of yon west coast wordsmiths, nobody cared.

Actually, that’s not true. Despite its use as an indoor sports arena, Major League Soccer and expansion team LAFC care very much in that the sooner it comes down, the better. LAFC doesn’t have a player under contract, but it does have a deal to build a soccer-specific venue in its place. Banc of California Stadium opens in 2018.

Perhaps the arena could have been rescued. The Forum earned an inner facelift as a concert-only venue. The Sports Arena? Not only did it not get a makeover, it didn’t even get one of those dramatic implosion send offs they put on the local news.

The Sports Arena was a venue so irrelevant it simply needed to flatline, have a sheet tugged over it, and wheeled away.

The first time I saw the inside of the Sports Arena was on television, but not for an actual sporting event. It was when Carver High School advanced to the city championship game in the 1980 CBS drama “The White Shadow.” So this fictitious basketball team strolls across the court of the arena, guard Morris Thorpe looks to the ceilings and says that place was the sport where a player like him could really shine.

And as a child, I’m looking at my TV screen thinking, “There? You want to shine in a dump like that?”

That was 36 years ago.

Since then, the Clippers moved into the Sports Arena — having left an equally nasty gym in San Diego. The Clippers were pretty much the only reason I ever set foot into that place. Tickets were cheap for a college student, $10. Later, I covered Clippers games for a regional newspaper.

Only the Sports Arena floors were liquor store-level dirty. The seating in some sections was held together with electrical tape, and it was the only arena in the NBA that hadn’t upgraded its scoreboard to a television screen for instant replay.

Reporters usually have to wait for the locker room doors to open after a game. Players get a few minutes to hear from their coaches, shower, decompress, etc., before listening to our inane questions. Having said that, I don’t ever recall stepping into the Clippers locker room. I remember Larry Brown and the players being brought out to us. It makes me wonder if the toilets worked.

So when Staples Center opened, the Clippers ran like hell knowing full well it would be the No. 3 priority tenant behind the Lakers and Kings.

From the outside, the Sports Arena looked like a swelling bruise on South Central Los Angeles, or perhaps like a pimple beneath the chin of the University of Southern California. USC playing football in the neighboring Coliseum is charming in historical context. Its basketball team had to panhandle its graduates for decades to abandon the Sports Arena, build the Galen Center, and finally compete with UCLA for top recruits.

So let’s get to the bottom line. The Los Angeles Sports Arena was a dirty, charmless, nondescript building that held no lasting memories for anyone. Its life was without consequence. And in a city like LA, when you are irrelevant, you vanish with nary a trace.

LAFC needs to keep that in mind when it opens its new digs.