SAN DIEGO – It’s no secret that San Diego, a gateway city between the United States and Mexico, has long been a target for Major League Soccer expansion.
The vibrant youth soccer scene, the history of producing professional players, the multicultural diversity found across its neighborhoods – each piece just made sense. Even the weather on the Southern California coast was part of the appeal.
All it would take is the right ownership group, the right opportunity, the right timing to get efforts over the line.
Each aspect coalesced Thursday morning, with MLS Commissioner Don Garber formally announcing team No. 30 is coming to San Diego and beginning play during the 2025 season. The club will call home Snapdragon Stadium on the campus of San Diego State University, just as the NWSL’s San Diego Wave have in setting attendance records, and the excitement is already building.
“We never lost our focus, we never lost hope in San Diego being a great MLS team and market,” said Garber at the unveiling ceremony. “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.”
The ownership group contains an eclectic mix from across the world, with each prong sharing a unified vision for top-flight soccer in San Diego.
Egypt-born entrepreneur, investor and philanthropist Mohamed Mansour is at the forefront, as is the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation (the first Native American tribe with an ownership stake in professional soccer in the United States). There’s even a dash of celebrity, with Major League Baseball All-Star and San Diego Padres infielder Manny Machado part of the investor group. Right to Dream, which founder Tom Vernon began in Ghana in 1999 and has expanded globally with a much-acclaimed player development methodology, provides a youth-focused outlook framing everything in San Diego.
Talking to stakeholders, it becomes abundantly clear: a global-minded worldview, with an emphasis on community and harnessing local talent, will be central as San Diego’s new club comes to life.
“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, whose community has roots of 12,000-plus years in San Diego.
Noted Mansour while detailing his inspiring life story from Egypt to an American education to this new venture: “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.”
The months ahead will be filled with plenty of firsts and new milestones – MLS San Diego has to announce a team name, crest, colorway, sporting director, head coach, foundational players, training location and much more. Club CEO Tom Penn recognized as much, assuring specifics will emerge in due course. His experience, helping launch LAFC’s 2018 entry to MLS before stepping down as club president in August 2020, should prove vital.
“Sustained excellence on and off the pitch,” Penn said when asked about San Diego’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.”
Right to Dream, owned by a Mansour-run investment management firm, contains a global community of world-class academies, clubs and partners with an innovative approach to identifying and nurturing talent. One of their flagship outposts is FC Nordsjælland, the Danish top-flight side that’s the youngest across all of Europe's top divisions, offering a window into what this methodology can accomplish.
With a San Diego twist – Vernon stressed Right to Dream’s approach is molded by the geography and market they’re in – there’s a curriculum in place to empower youth to reach the next level.
“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,” said Vernon. “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.”
Here to stay
As much as the mood was celebratory Thursday, hints of competitive spirit emerged as well. This new club, launching one year before the 2026 FIFA World Cup comes to North America and in year three of the Apple-MLS partnership, wants to make a statement from the get-go.
Part of that means continuing community outreach and stoking some rivalry-minded flames with their neighbors to the north.
“We want to build something special to go after Los Angeles. And I'm talking both of them up there,” said Penn, calling out LAFC and the LA Galaxy.
There’s an expectation to win early and often, too.
“I'm looking forward to hopefully bringing championships here,” said Machado.
With the sprint toward 2025 officially underway, Mansour offered a reminder about what is beginning. The sport already has deep roots in San Diego, and they’re simply building off them with a vision of what’s to come.
“This soccer club is your soccer club. It belongs to this city. We are merely custodians,” said Mansour. “It's your community and this soccer club is going to be here in San Diego for a long, long time.”