MLS has figured out that their next members need to come with strong home crowds. That’s just business savviness.
So San Diego getting the next expansion team was a no-brainer.
San Diego’s proximity to Tijuana, the city’s commitment to youth soccer and its multicultural makeup – paired with the gorgeous weather of southern California – all factored into the decision no doubt. But what made an MLS team a reality? Timing.
As evinced this past Thursday when MLS commissioner Don Garber formally announced the league’s 30th member, timing was of the essence with the right investors coming together to usher in this new era of San Diego sports.
“We never lost our focus, we never lost hope in San Diego being a great MLS team and market,” said Garber. “And here we are with a great ownership group, great facility and a business staff that’s really going to work hard to build a terrific team in this market.”
And San Diego’s hungry for more soccer. The new team will debut during the 2025 season and play at Snapdragon Stadium on the San Diego State University Campus, a 32,000-seater home they will share with NWSL side, the San Diego Wave FC, who have already set record attendance numbers.
New owners are as varied as the city itself, with Egyptian entrepreneur, investor, and philanthropist Mohamed Mansour leading the group alongside the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation – the first Native American tribe to own a professional soccer team in the U.S. and a community that dates its roots to over 12,000 in the San Diego area.
Beloved San Diego Padres’ all-star infielder Manny Machado is also an investor adding a touch of sports celebrity and community appeal. Their youth development will be guided by Tom Vernon’s Right to Dream, a project he founded in Ghana back in 1999 and boasts an acclaimed youth development methodology.
In short, the ownership group shows a sense of globality for a brand they will craft from community and local talent.
“With partners like this, with the experience and the passion for the sport of soccer and football, and our passion for the city of San Diego, there will be no stopping the success of this club,” said Sycuan tribal chairman Cody Martinez.
Mansour also drew from his own life story detailing his upbringing in Egypt before coming to study in the U.S. “I love new beginnings. It’s where goals are scored and dreams achieved. Sometimes I have to pinch myself with what happened afterwards. Mo the waiter, as I was known in college, now employs 60,000 people around the world.
“Being here today is perhaps the most exciting challenge, the greatest chance to live my dream. I want to also make it your dream. San Diego is my dream, my new American dream. I thank you all so much for making this happen.”
Club CEO Tom Penn, who helped launch the LAFC back in 2018, brings much-needed experience as San Diego readies all the pre-debut business ahead of the 2025 season.
“Sustained excellence on and off the pitch,” Penn said regarding the team’s identity. “We want to be hyper-relevant to the entire community and something they care about.
“Then with the Right to Dream methodology, we’re going to be identifying and developing the best youth talent in our region and in the country so we can impact the quality of the game in North America.”
With Right to Dream, a Mansour-run management firm, the club taps into a global ideology and community of academies, clubs, and partners with a unique focus on youth development. But founder Tom Vernon has made geographical location a key factor in his approach and will look at San Diego’s youth soccer culture as a cue to develop innovative curriculum to mine and nurture young, local talent.
“It’s the belief that no matter where you come from in this world and no matter how you start, if you have the right work ethic you can make it to the top,” he said. “Those are things that are unique to the sports culture of this country and they’re things that will form the foundation that we’re building here.
“The greatest football clubs in the world, from Barcelona to Ajax, are built on the simple principle and philosophy that you give youth an opportunity. That’s what our club is going to be doing here.”
The new San Diego team, two full years ahead of its first match, has already made regional rivalries part of its language with Penn making some points during the unveiling.
“We want to build something special to go after Los Angeles. And I’m talking both of them up there,” said Penn, about the obvious neighbors up north – maybe he’ll expand that vision into a CONCACAF rivalry with immediate southern neighbors, Club Tijuana Xoloitzcuintles de Caliente – better known as the Xolos – down the line.
But Mansour offered a more sobering statement, one that will ultimately cement this team within its community.
“This soccer club is your soccer club. It belongs to this city. We are merely custodians,” he said. “It’s your community and this soccer club is going to be here in San Diego for a long, long time.”