San Diego Announced as Newest Major League Soccer Expansion Franchise


Kurt Johnston, Senior Staff Writer

Despite being dubbed “America’s Finest City,” San Diego claims a professional sports landscape that pales in comparison to its California peers. It lost not one, but two basketball franchises in the ’70s and ’80s (the Rockets and the Clippers), and the much-maligned Chargers relocated to Los Angeles in 2017. This trend of removal, however, has been curbed by the rise of a new sport: soccer. After much deliberation, Major League Soccer has announced that San Diego will become the league’s 30th franchise. The new club will play at San Diego State University’s Snapdragon Stadium and will begin their inaugural season in 2025.


Major League Soccer has tripled in size since 1996, with the addition of 15 teams in 16 years. The majority of this growth has occurred in the South, with Nashville, Charlotte, Atlanta, Orlando, and Miami each attracting an MLS franchise in the last decade. San Diego becomes California’s fourth club, more than any other state or province. San Diego soccer fans will look forward to rivalry games against LA Galaxy and LAFC, as well as a NorCal-SoCal clash with games versus the San Jose Earthquakes.


San Diego was an unexpected choice for MLS until late in the expansion process, with Sacramento and Las Vegas submitting the two most competitive bids. Sacramento Republic FC is perhaps the best-supported non-MLS team in the country, and the city seemed destined for an MLS franchise and a lucrative soccer-specific stadium. However, after financial backing for the bid fell apart, Sacramento no longer remained a viable option for MLS in 2025. Las Vegas has been the darling of American sports relocation, with the Raiders (NFL), the Golden Knights (NHL), and potentially the Athletics (MLB) holding their franchises in Sin City. MLS ultimately opted for San Diego due to its superior market size and stadium, but both snubbed cities will be sure to look for future MLS expansion opportunities.


The unnamed MLS franchise is the third professional soccer club to move to San Diego since 2020. After a failed attempt to move to Sacramento, San Diego Wave FC joined the National Women’s Soccer League in 2022. Led by USWNT star Alex Morgan and goalkeeper of the year Kailen Sheridan, the Wave clinched the third-best record of the 2022 NWSL season and reached the playoff semifinals in their first year of existence. The Wave also hold the single-game attendance record for an NWSL match, with their first match at Snapdragon Stadium drawing a sellout crowd of 32,000. Eight weeks into the 2023 season, the Wave is currently tied for second in the league, just one point behind NWSL leaders Gotham FC. 


San Diego Loyal SC became the city’s first professional soccer team in 2020, holding their matches at the University of San Diego’s Torero Stadium. The Loyal is a member of the USL Championship, the second division within the American soccer pyramid. The team has an incredibly spirited fanbase and USMNT legend Landon Donovan heads the front office, which in normal circumstances would lead to the expectation of great success. However, the Loyal’s presence in San Diego is severely threatened by the arrival of MLS. 


Some MLS expansion teams have been promoted from the USL level; FC Cincinnati and Nashville SC were allowed to retain their USL brands in MLS. However, the majority of recent expansion franchises have usurped USL clubs, leaving the existing club to suffer. Miami FC, Charlotte Independence, and Orange County SC have all been de facto replaced in their cities by MLS teams, and the San Diego Loyal is likely to become the latest soccer casualty. It is yet to be seen if the Loyal will truly live up to their name and compete with MLS for the San Diego market. What is certain is that with the departures of major sports franchises, San Diego sports fans will rally around this incoming soccer club and begin to rebuild the city’s vibrant sports culture. 


MLS’s profile will certainly be boosted in the run-up for 2025, with the league signing a 10-year, $2.5 billion contract with Apple TV+ for exclusive game rights and additional coverage. Apple’s “MLS Season Pass” has been heavily criticized by fans, as its $14.99 per month price tag exceeds the price of watching higher quality soccer, such as the Premier League ($5 per month on Peacock). The league may receive a further PR bump with the potential arrival of Lionel Messi, who is contemplating a summer move to Inter Miami. While it seems like Messi may be leaning towards joining the Saudi Pro League, the world’s most famous player may visit Snapdragon Stadium in 2025, which would surely be a boon for stateside soccer.


MLS’s expansion to San Diego is incredibly exciting for soccer fans in the city, with Snapdragon Stadium hosting not one but two top-tier professional sides. With the right financial backing, the San Diego franchise could be the latest MLS team to compete in the playoffs in their first year of existence. While the team still lacks a name, a crest, and a mascot, San Diego soccer fans have much to be thrilled about for 2025.


Image Courtesy of Alan Light on Flickr