When it comes to American Soccer, you would be hard pressed to find a more recognizable name than Landon Donovan. The all-time leader in goals and assists for the United States Men’s National Team is also becoming a familiar face to residents of San Diego, with Donovan and his family recently moving to America’s Finest City.
In conjunction with the San Diego Sockers, the indoor stalwarts who are currently on a quest for their 15th championship in franchise history, Soccer Nation’s Nate Abaurrea had an in depth chat with Donovan this weekend, inside the Socker’s home of the Valley View Casino Center.
Part One of the conversation focuses on Donovan’s newfound love for San Diego and his unwavering support for Major League Soccer Expansion in America’s Finest City.
Nate Abaurrea: So before we get into MLS in SD, some great stories from your playing career, and some exciting news with you and the Sockers, talk about Landon Donovan becoming a San Diegan.
Landon Donovan: Well, as anyone who is in a relationship or married knows, when your wife says she wants to move to San Diego, you say “OK, when are we moving?”
My wife actually grew up here and her family is still here. About three weeks into my son’s life, we came down here to visit, and we were in over our heads with feeding and diapers and all that stuff that comes with it. Then we were able to go out to dinner and leave the baby with her parents for about three hours. I remember we looked at each other during dinner and went, “yeah, we’re moving here”. The decision was really quite easy.
Growing up, I only spent time here for soccer tournaments. I never imagined I’d live here one day. But I absolutely love this place, and I’m proud to call it my home.
Nate Abaurrea: Now you happened to get here during an incredible time for the soccer culture of San Diego, and the movement for MLS to SD is something that you’ve been on board with from day one.
Landon Donovan: Definitely. I’ve been an ambassador of Major League Soccer. I love the league. I love the sport, obviously, and I want to see it grow in this country. As you know, with having things like the San Diego Sockers here, with so much history and tradition, we have the ability to continue that soccer tradition and help it grow.
The opportunity to kind of take this thing from second gear to fifth gear, quickly, is what we have upon us right now. San Diego has a massive soccer culture. There are so many people here who love the game. We have organizations like the Sockers, teams like Surf, Albion, Nomads, teams that feel like they’ve been here forever. Now we have the chance to make it truly big time. That’s an opportunity that may only come once in a lifetime, and you’ve got to jump at it.
Nate Abaurrea: Now you reference the Sockers and the team’s history going back to the 1970’s, how it all relates to the fantastic soccer culture that we already have here in San Diego, and utilizing that in the effort to bring Major League Soccer to this city. What can an organization like the Sockers and their fans do to help that process?
Landon Donovan: Well the Sockers have been doing it for years, and the Sockers fans have been doing it for years. You have to have a base. If you go into a city that has no soccer culture and no soccer history, then you’re starting from below ground zero. The Sockers have created fans of the game, people who understand and love the game.
Obviously indoor is a bit different from the outdoor game, but these people understand the nuances of the game of soccer and how it works. Folks in San Diego understand how soccer brings people together, and now, hopefully, they have an opportunity to be a part of another step in San Diego’s soccer history by bringing an MLS team here.
We’re gonna have opportunities in the coming weeks and months to publicly show our support. There’s going to be an initiative coming out that people can sign to help bring MLS to San Diego. This is all part of the process of getting all these different groups of people that love soccer in this city and combining them and galvanizing them to hopefully do something really special.
Nate Abaurrea: Now in regards to MLS expansion, there are of course twelve cities across this country essentially competing for four expansion spots in the league. You’ve already touched on some of this, but please elaborate on some of the main reasons why, for you, San Diego should absolutely be one of those four cities.
Landon Donovan: I think when you look at an expansion bid, you have to look at a few main things. One, do they have a good ownership group? I think most of us here in San Diego understand what this ownership group is about, and may have even had conversations with them. An ownership group has to care about the city.
They have to have a stadium that is soccer-specific or a plan that can be soccer-specific. They need soccer fans. The league needs good TV markets and big population markets that will help push the sport forward. So when you look at all those boxes of criteria, San Diego checks off every one. Then you throw in the great weather, the great people, the great food, the great beer scene, the great nightlife… You see everything that encompasses San Diego and you say, “wow, that seems like a perfect market for Major League Soccer”.
(Stay tuned to SoccerNation.com for Part Two of our conversation with Landon Donovan, which takes a look at what a potential MLS franchise would mean for San Diego’s relationship with the Xolos of Club Tijuana. Donovan and Abaurrea then discuss the movement to get citizens of San Diego on board with the MLS project, and how to address the naysayers and anti-soccer crowd of San Diego.)