NASL Expands to San Diego

NASL Ball Beach

By JAKE NUTTING

nasl logoThe North American Soccer League is set to add two expansion teams to its ranks next year. After the recent announcement of a team in Orange County, the league has approved the addition of another Southern California team in San Diego.

San Diego’s team is backed by a group of active soccer players. The current Chelsea star Eden Hazard, the former Chelsea star Demba Ba, the Crystal Palace midfielder Yohan Cabaye and the Sengal international Moussa Sow are all founding members of the ownership group. The local executive Bob Watkins, also an owner, will serve as the team’s first president.

“It’s an absolute honor to bring professional soccer to San Diego County,” said Watkins, who served as the USA Rugby Football Union’s president for six years. “The international soccer stars driving this effort give us an excellent foundation from which to build. We will be an exciting club to watch — you can count on that. We intend to develop local talent, helping young children realize their dreams of playing professional soccer, and we intend to help San Diego become a soccer capital known around the world.”

The team is currently scouting locations to build a stadium, which could be a modular creation, in North County and will play next year’s home matches at the University of San Diego’s Torero Stadium, which seat 6,000. The stadium has hosted Major League Soccer’s Los Angeles Galaxy and Chivas USA for exhibition matches in the past.

A past front-office member of the New York Red Bulls is also helping the new San Diego outfit get off the ground. Ricardo Campos, who was the Red Bulls’s technical director from 2011-15,  will fill a similar role in San Diego.

“My focus will be to create a team that San Diegans are proud to call their own, with players and staff who are hard-working, creative and instinctively smart,” Campos said. “We will put together a staff that focuses on building our players, on and off the field, and creating an environment that strives for continuous personal development.”

San Diego was, up until last week, a favorite for MLS expansion. That group’s MLS bid has hit a significant snag after a public vote for its stadium plan in Mission Valley was put on hold by the City Council. Ba welcomes any competition.

“Success is our goal – with the club, with the community, with everything that we do,” Ba said. “One of our goals is to sign players who have a strong passion for the game, who are competitive and love to win. All my life as a football player, I lived with competition and competition is going to be good for us and for San Diego. I look forward to competing against our fellow California clubs and the rest of the NASL, as well as MLS clubs in the U.S. Open Cup. It is going to be up to us to be the best.”

Adding San Diego would put the NASL at 10 teams. 12 teams is the magic number to reach U.S. Soccer’s Division II requirement, although waivers have been granted to allow for the shortcomings of every lower division league. The league-owned Jacksonville Armada are still in need of new ownership, while the Fort Lauderdale Strikers appear to be dead after their recent foreclosure sale. In addition, two NASL clubs — North Carolina FC and Indy Eleven — have applied for expansion teams in MLS.

“The plans that Demba, Eden and the rest of the ownership group have in store for the development of their club align well with the vision of the NASL because they will apply vast global experience to the local community in San Diego,” the interim NASL Commissioner Rishi Sehgal said. “The NASL celebrates the global game by focusing on players and delivering a high-quality soccer experience to the fans, and this group intends to do just that.”