Everything you need to know about USL San Diego
Professional outdoor soccer in San Diego? Been there. Tried that.
San Diego is crazy for soccer. San Diego politicians, not so much.
Plenty of San Diegans are still skeptical of USL San Diego’s announcement last week. When I sat down with Ricardo Campos, Landon Donovan, and Warren Smith, they understood the skepticism. Smith told me, “San Diego soccer fans have been put through enough. We’re not looking back. We’re looking forward. Pro soccer is coming to San Diego. San Diego politics are not involved [as LD sighed and looked heavenward, in relief]. It’s done.”
Campos, Donovan, and Smith are team spearheading USL San Diego — the newest member of “USL Championship,” the tier of professional soccer directly below MLS.
The lease is signed. USL Championship will be playing in San Diego in 2020 or 2021.
USL San Diego will be playing at Torrero Stadium at the University of San Diego. Smith described, “We have a three year lease with USD. The stadium has a capacity around 6,000, and we have a clause in the contract to expand that by a few thousand if we all agree as we move along.”
So, 2020 or 2021?
I asked Smith what will make the difference in whether or not the team plays its first season in 2020 or 2021. Donovan had mentioned in a recent podcast that they are looking for local ownership to step forward and join their team. Would that be a springboard to a 2020 season? Warren replied, “We definitely want local ownership. It has to be the right people, though. Folks who agree with our community-first approach. People who want to be at every game and every event. But that’s not what will keep us from playing in 2020 versus 2021.”
He continued, “USL has a lot of conditions and tasks that need to be done. Field size, coaching, staff, business plans. It’s a lot of work for us, and we’re making sure we get it all done. If we can, we’ll be playing in 2020. But we aren’t going to rush it if that means sacrificing any of the quality we bring to San Diego. USL agrees completely. So, we’ll see as we move along in the process, but it will be 2020 or 2021. Getting local ownership to come on board will be great, but it won’t change which year we start playing.”
What does this mean for soccer families in San Diego?
All of the press I’ve seen over the last week has been talking a lot about supporters groups. Smith agreed that they want to build supporters groups from the very beginning. He described a focus group they’d brought together the night before. “We brought in people from the American Outlaws, the San Diego Sockers supporters group, people like that. We wanted to get their input about the team and how we can make this team truly ‘San Diego.’ Supporters groups are mostly young adults who are passionate about their team.” I asked where San Diego families come in.
“There’s a line between passionate and inappropriate. We won’t cross that line.”
Donovan leaned in and said, “This will be family friendly! Supporters groups can be rowdy, for sure. There’s a line between passionate and inappropriate. We won’t cross that line. Families will be able to bring their kids and either sit in the supporters section or right next to it and have a great time in a family-friendly environment.”
Smith added, “USL has a strict code of conduct, and we will have one as well that our supporters group will follow. We are completely committed to a wholesome family-friendly atmosphere. Passionate, one-hundred percent. But parents will feel completely comfortable bringing their kids to games.”
Speaking of passion crossing the line into inappropriate, I asked about the traditional goal-kick chant that is heard at many soccer games. Donovan was adamant, probably the most forceful he was during the entire interview, when he said, “That WILL NOT HAPPEN. Absolutely NOT. We will make sure.”
Speaking of families and kids, will USL San Diego partner with a local club?
I asked Smith and Donovan if they will be forming any partnerships with local clubs for youth development or sponsorships. Smith replied first, “We are Switzerland when it comes to youth soccer in San Diego. I’ve had some local clubs come to me and want to parter with us, and I told them ‘We’re Switzerland.’ They didn’t like that, but that’s OK. We aren’t going to go that route. I worked with another American pro team, and they had partnered with a huge local club. They thought it was great. That club had thousands of players. But there were tens of thousands of other youth players in the area that felt left out. We aren’t going to do that here.”
Donovan added, “We want fans from all over San Diego. South bay. East County. The coast. North County. We also want to find players from San Diego. Youth clubs here do a great job developing players, and if a club has created an environment that can develop a player for us, we won’t care which club that is.”
Where will USL San Diego find players?
Donovan continued, “Everyone will be welcome at our tryouts. If we get the green light for a 2020 season, we’ll be having tryouts in the Fall or Winter of this year. Ideally, I want a roster of twenty to twenty-three San Diegans. Will that happen? Probably not, but that’s the ultimate goal. I’ve been hearing from a lot of players outside San Diego who want to come try out. I tell them all the same thing: Any player is welcome to reach out to me, and everyone will be welcome at tryouts. But we want to find San Diego talent. There are a lot of great college programs here in San Diego.”
At this point, I suggested SDSU and USD, both very competitive NCAA D1 programs. Donovan jumped in and said, “And UCSD! They’ve got great talented players.” Looking at those three college programs, UCSD stands out as a soccer program that fills their roster with California players. In fact, UCSD only has two players from outside California — one from Iceland and one from Texas. Donovan’s desire to fill USL San Diego’s roster with home-grown players fits well with UCSD’s recruiting style, and he repeated, “Everyone is welcome at tryouts. We want to see them! And players from local clubs. We want to reach out to all of the clubs.”
Speaking of local talent and developing players, READ THIS ARTICLE to learn more about what US Soccer looks for in youth players. Those qualities will also be what USL San Diego will be looking for when they begin searching for players.
What will the team name be?
Getting back to nitty-gritty details about the team, I asked what the name will be. Smith said, “We’re working on it. We’ve been talking to our focus groups a lot. We monitor social media. We want input from everyone. We’ll probably decide in the next few weeks, so stay tuned. It will definitely be a name that is all about San Diego.”
The logo that has been circulating online is black and gold. I asked if those were going to be the team colors. Campos chimed in, “Those are the USL corporate colors. We’re just using those while we decide on the San Diego identity. We’ll be taking on our own name, and our own team colors soon. And it will be very ‘San Diego.'”
How much will tickets cost?
I asked how much tickets will cost. Smith replied, “We’re shooting for somewhere in the twenties, maybe high-twenties, but somewhere around there. And we will definitely have season ticket and membership options. Anyone who wants to stay up-to-date with that should sign up on the website. That way, they’ll get every update.”