Stadium Issues Not a Worry for San Diego: The argument for a soccer specific stadium is impeding the growth of the game in the San Diego region

(Written by Ryan Ginard @RyanGinard)

It was last weekend when our coach broke it to us that the annual post-season cup tournament would not be going ahead this year, and this would be our final game of the season until we kicked off again later in the year.

Granted this was a blessing in disguise for everyone’s ageing hamstrings, but the reality was that there was no more recreational outdoor soccer for a good 6 months, which is a lifetime for those that understand the fun and camaraderie of amateur soccer played every weekend across fields nationwide.

So why was it cancelled you may ask? Well surprisingly enough it wasn’t the prevailing issues of cost or lack of grounds, quite the opposite. The reason for the postponement was that coaches throughout the league had refused to participate due to the quality of the fields. The fields!

Kids worldwide are playing on dirt patches, dangerous streets and the worst favelas with the ongoing risk of violence and buried mines, and we are complaining about a grass field a stone’s throw from Ocean Beach in San Diego. But let’s put the hardships of other nations to one side, that’s a whole other discussion.

The main culprit of many injuries and shanked shots from 2 yards out is that of Robb Field. It’s a field that has long been neglected and ravaged by gophers and thousands of people, and playing sports there daily is funnily enough a great analogy for soccer in America’s Finest City.

Sure there’s plenty of potential and lots of talk about fixing the problem, but no one stumping up the cash to get it done.

And that’s where we begin our soccer specific stadium (SSS) argument and provide reasons for a reality check for many local supporters that believe that it is the instant fix for soccer in the area. Like every major piece of infrastructure, building strong foundations are paramount.

Also, before we continue, let’s get one thing straight. There is no chance a team can plug and play in MLS from San Diego.

The old adage ‘Build it and they will come’ is an immature and naïve approach to soccer in the region and very problematic. The evidence of this worldwide is there for all to see.

The Australian A-League, which is similar to the U.S. in its growth and direction, has seen 3 expansion clubs become defunct with one of those (Gold Coast United) having a billionaire owner and a brand new 25,000 seat stadium, which could only attract a home crowd average of 3,300. To put that into perspective, this is what the PASL Champion San Diego Sockers gets for indoor games.

Soccer is not a get rich quick scheme. It’s a unique business model that requires a professional approach.

The National Premier Soccer League (NPSL), while being a great option for ambitious clubs because of its low barriers to entry, also has a big problem that is often masked by its steady influx of new teams. NPSL teams are coming and going at an alarming rate (over the past 5 years over 29 clubs have folded) and this ongoing issue continues to erode the reputation of the league.

We mention the NPSL as this is our highest representation of teams here in San Diego. Our current clubs believe that a new stadium is indeed the key to growth. San Diego Boca has even gone as far as a community petition and working with consultants to create an artist’s impression of what it will look like, while the San Diego Flash have long mentioned on social media that they have everything in place for a stadium except for the land to build it. These are both examples of putting the cart before the horse.

And herein lays the problem. These clubs have scared off any other players in the market with big plans and ideas, and years have passed with them being no closer to achieving their dream. In fact it isn’t even on the horizon, with the council committed to sorting out the home of the Chargers before it looks into any other stadium proposals.

This has ultimately left San Diego in the wake of other soccer markets in its ongoing development. We all know the progress of the New York Cosmos and the Orlando franchise with their financed and council approved locale. While people have always known the next franchise was destined for the East Coast, San Diego thought it had to be the next cab off the rank, but sadly this is not the case.

It was just this week that Sacramento has been added to the mix. Elk Grove Council have voted yes on the acquisition of land and a potential $100 million stadium and has now positioned themselves as the next viable Californian team to enter the upper echelons of pro soccer in the U.S.

The harsh reality is that these stadiums cannot happen without the money to build them, and these clubs currently don’t have the capital to make it happen, regardless of their vision. It is optimistic at best to think that a multi-millionaire backer will appear and cough up the funds and not want full control of the club and its direction, or that crowd funding is going to be a potential x-factor.

That’s where the Flash is in a bit of a quandary. If this big backer joins the club, he isn’t going to want to listen to another 50 investors. There model is indeed unique and they are probably the best placed team to make pro soccer in San Diego a reality, but they have now been around for a number of years, still play in the fourth tier and haven’t articulated their plans past the NPSL. If they haven’t made it now with the influence and extensive contact list at the disposal of their trump cards Warren Barton and Eric Wynalda, every year that goes past has been a missed opportunity.

It’s the clubs and not the stadiums that are most important issue at this time. Regardless of what people say, we have more than enough stadiums to get the ball rolling.

Firstly let’s move away from high school venues as an option. If clubs are serious of moving to USL PRO or the NASL, they need to go big or go home. We have the Torero’s Stadium at USD which has a capacity of 6,000. Heck, why not go the whole hog and use Qualcomm Stadium? The ageing home of the San Diego Chargers was only 2 years ago confirmed as a venue for the U.S. World Cup bid for 2022. Using just the Field and Plaza levels will open up to 30,000 at the very least and it’s available!

So that negates the stadium issue for the immediate future. Next.

Devoid of politics and the strange urge of franchises to get the team on the park to make money, what San Diego needs is an investment/leadership group that focuses on soccer for the region yet supplements the big picture with comprehensive business plans, funding models and continued growth of the game at the local level. Perhaps following the lead of future NASL franchises in Ottawa, Indianapolis and Virginia, by establishing the business side and delaying its on-field introduction is a more viable option for a local entity.

As mentioned above, soccer is a unique business model and engagement is a two-way street. A team needs to capture the imagination (and support) of clubs, parents, fans and administrators region wide to have an impact. Based on current evidence this will not happen via an NPSL route, but through a franchise that utilizes the potential of the city through action, not through words, including finding a way to fix Robb Field.

San Diego has everything a club needs already. Sadly, it just hasn’t found a way to connect all the dots.

The Second Leg

 

Not sure what I can write about this match that hasn’t already been written from a tactical point of view. Lineup predictions, formational preferences, and the impact of the two legendary managers have all been published, copied, pasted, reworded, recycled, occasionally refreshed and all together lost all meaning as the match looms nearer and nearer. I was trying to explain the significance of the occasion to my manager at work; trying and struggling mind you. She’s a lovely woman but she hasn’t the faintest idea of why I was so devastated to have been scheduled to work today. How do you explain love? How does one define excitement? How to articulate the sheer monumentality? To say this match will be more explosive that Team Yusuke v Team Toguro in the Dark Tournament is something of an understatement. More convoluted than House Stark v House Lannister? You bet it is.. but that is not quite explicative enough to do the match justice. Is it akin to two gladiators going at it in a bout to the death? Yeaa but nahh. Its Manchester United at home to Real Madrid circa 2013. I don’t think any sort of metaphor, simile, comparison, or explanation would suffice to accurately delineate the wash of emotions we’re all feeling today. It the Champions League. That says enough. Today I’m just going to sit back, watch, and enjoy this one. And stay sober because I still have work tonight -____-

Shout out to Ryan Giggs though! 1,000 matches and counting! Just hope he’s not starting…

 

My Gus Johnson Reaction

While I was writing that Champions League piece news started filtering in through my timeline that Fox Soccer have picked up a new commentator. At first glance the name Gus Johnson didn’t register at all (neither did it on the second, third, or fourth glances btw) but it wasn’t until I saw him being compared to the illustrious Ray Hudson (who I hold in rather high regard) that I started to take note. A clip of Johnson calling a match between the San Jose Earthquakes and DC United caught my eye. And ears. I wasn’t impressed. I check the Fox Soccer timeline and see that they are REALLY excited about the arrival of Mr. Johnson and seem to want us to be excited as well. Puzzled, and sensing discontent from some of the folks I follow, I poked around a bit more and found THIS Sports Illustrated piece detailing how Gus Johnson began his career as a soccer pundit. Then came the fury.

To super-summarize that article, Fox Sports won the U.S. broadcasting rights for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups and wanted to be bold and unique and to most importantly, “brand it with something unique to Fox.” So the President of Fox Sports calls up Gus Johnson. Gus Johnson is a 45 year old professional broadcaster with a vast amount of commentary experience in a variety of sports. None of those sports, however, happens to be soccer as it were. That’s ok though because Fox are giving this guy a crash course in soccer that includes extended trips to Europe and personal mentoring sessions with some of the game’s most knowledgeable and respected figures, as well as a soft and steady introduction to the game of soccer.

The fury has since subsided but even now I still can’t decide where to begin to comment on this. No one likes a Negative Nigel though so instead of focusing on what I consider to be a shockingly disrespectful and excruciatingly inconsiderate move by the Fox Sports President Eric Shanks to hire someone with no prior knowledge/ties/passion/understanding/experience/links/relations to the beautiful game and give that person the soccer fans ultimate dream education, I will  instead draw on the positives. Personally I’d prefer for an up and coming young soccer player/fan/writer/coach etc with aspirations of becoming the voice of American soccer to be handed the keys to the castle so to speak and have the opportunity literally handed to them on a silver platter but I can understand (even if I do not approve of) the move by Shanks to go with the top-down approach instead of the bottom-up. By taking someone who is already well known and generally well liked and respected, Fox generates more news than if they’d announced they’d just signed Dike Anyiwo to a log term commentary deal. Even the controversy of hiring a man from the despicable “sport” of baseball plays into Fox’s hands. Its still early doors in this experiment and I bear no ill-will towards Gud Johnson as an individual; I actually respect the depth and scope of the preparation he’s going through to prepare himself. I’ll withhold my final judgment of this whole affair until after this upcoming round of Champions League fixtures that he is scheduled to work.  Part of me even wants him to succeed if it leads more Americans to watching and understanding soccer.

I just wonder though… If Fox Sports invested just 1/10 of what they’re putting into this Gus experiment into providing an opportunity for someone who actually knows the game to pursue the same goal, they’d recoup a lot of the animosity amongst us purists that this move has generated. How cool would it be if Fox Soccer continued with their recent “original programming” wave and put together a project similar to that Celtic player trial show but for aspiring writers, analysts, and commentators??

Keep It Flashy San Diego

I first heard about the San Diego Flash through a social media online network known as Twitter in the spring of 2012. Warren Barton, who I had recently starting following, tweeted something about a tryout for those late bloomers like myself, who managed to fall through the cracks (chasms really) of the American soccer system. As a player this instantly appealed to me and I began to look into this club that was offering this unique and fairly outlandish opportunity. As I delved deeper into the history of the club I began to get a tingle up my spine as I realized exactly what I was dealing with.

The San Diego Flash is a Men’s Outdoor Professional Soccer Club based in San Diego, California. They were originally founded in 1998, but folded in 2001 due to lack of suitable infrastructure. After a period of 8 fallow years the team was resurrected in 2010 by a new ownership group spearheaded by Clenton Alexander, a former investment banker, and including Warren Barton himself as head coach and other highly reputable soccer personalities like former US international and San Diego native,  Eric Wynalda. The Flash returned to competitive play in 2011 when they made its debut in the Southwest Flight of the West Division of the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL), the fourth tier of the American soccer pyramid.
Since returning to competitive play, the Flash, lead by Barton and assistant coach slash former Flash player Jerome Watson, have taken their opponents largely by storm. Winning the Southwestern division of the NPSL last season in 2011 with a record of 12-1-1 and advanced to the playoffs where they narrowly lost out to the reigning champions, the Sacramento Gold. This season the team is currently 8-1-0 on a 7 game winning streak and have only conceded 4 goals whilst banging in 31(!!) up the other end. The Flash, while dominant on the pitch is still looking to improve and expand as a brand in their home city. The people behind the scenes are working hard to bring this fabulous team to the attention of soccer fans of all ages in the area. CEO Clent Alexander has stated that, “The mission of the San Diego Flash is to inspire all youth players, boys and girls, to playing the sport of soccer at higher levels by giving them quality soccer to watch, as well as give local players the opportunity to play professionally in their hometown of San Diego.” In an effort to do just that, the Flash recently unveiled a new and interactive way for youth players to get involved. By visiting the Flash’s homepage, (http://sandiegoflashsoccer.com/) players can upload a picture of themselves with their team, and then actually attend flash home matches to receive personalized passes with their own picture on them! This simple yet effective measure demonstrates that the Flash as an organization is a club with its fingers firmly on the pulse of the people. We all want quality soccer in our backyards and the Flash aim to give it in a variety of new and interactive ways.

As fans of soccer in America, we find ourselves in an awkward and frankly embarrassing position. No one wants to be associated with mediocrity, and yet on an international scale, our domestic league and most of our players are unfortunately just that. In order to improve into the world power on the pitch that we are off of it, we are going to need to take a good hard look at ourselves. Where can we direct our gaze and identify where to bend our will in order to develop? We can’t afford to cast our sights across the pond at European football forever. In order to rival and eventually surpass the rest of the world we are going to have to grow our game. The easiest and probably most effective way to take great strides in a short period of time is to invest in our local clubs. Supporting a club like the San Diego Flash with a solid business model off the pitch and scintillating football on it is a PERFECT way to begin to address the disparity between ourselves and the rest of the world.
Success isn’t something that comes overnight. It takes years of meticulous planning, investment of resources both precious and plentiful, sleepless nights, a little luck, but most importantly what success needs in order to become synonymous with United States soccer is the time and attention of the United States people. San Diegans are lucky. We have in our own backyard; a team to support that plays entertaining, free flowing football. A team that we can go and support as they look to climb the ladder with local lads and a dedicated coaching staff of former professionals who know exactly what it takes to rise to the top of the crop.

 

Team photo of the 2012 San Diego Flash

 

What can you do you ask? Its simple:

  • Find your local club whether it be MLS, USL, PDL, NPSL and go watch a home game
  • Get online and use social media to connect with other like-minded locals who are interested in grassroots soccer in America. Use the hashtag #GrowTheGame on Twitter and you’ll be amazed at what’s going on
  • Visit the website of your club and learn more about their history and the people involved in running them
  • Perhaps buy yourself or your child a jersey from the club?
  • Get creative in your support! Whether it be funds, time, specific expertise… etc. Whatever you do helps so chip in as you can. The movement starts with you

#KeepItFlashySanDiego

Chelsea vs Manchester United Highlights and Analysis

http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xodevf_chelsea-vs-manchester-united-3-3_sport

Where to begin?
Every football match has its own life. A heartbeat. A pulse. Lord only knows what the blood pressure readings were during this match but its certain that this game was alive and kicking from start to finish. Great saves from both keepers, scintillating build up play, soft goals conceded, clear penalties not given, softer penalties awarded and then promptly guided into the back of Petr Cech’s net with a savage precision usually only seen in Fifa12… the list goes on.
On the whole I imagine United will be content with that point recovered although once again they dug themselves the whole that they so valiantly clawed their way out of. with 14 games to play and now (once again) 2 points behind City, the title race is as alive as ever. Next up is Liverpool at home. Onwards and upwards I say!