Offside with Taylor Twellman

San Diego FC look to become the "Ajax of North America"

Offside pod TT - Tom Penn - San Diego FC

As San Diego FC eye their 2025 Major League Soccer introduction, youth development is at the forefront. They’re even taking inspiration from one of Europe’s most storied clubs in this arena.

“We're not going to be totally youth-oriented from the beginning,” club CEO Tom Penn said on _Offside with Taylor Twellman_. “We're going to have a mix of veterans and young players, but our long-haul identity is that we're going to be a youth development platform, an Ajax of North America kind of thing, because that's our competitive advantage.”

Right to Dream

That competitive advantage, as Penn coined it, is rooted in location and the club’s holistic outlook.

San Diego FC are constructing a Right to Dream Academy to help develop players, leaning on a global soccer community of world-class academies, clubs and partners – ranging from the program’s origins in Ghana to FC Nordsjælland in Denmark. The affiliation offers an innovative approach to identifying and nurturing talent as well as an exciting, fast-paced style of play.

Meanwhile, this all occurs in a talent-rich region along the US-Mexico border.

“Just think of the opportunity to co-mingle, co-mix the best kids from Tijuana with the best kids from Southern California, and then empower them with the best education, the best character development, and the best football development, which is what Right To Dream does, and you start looking where no one else is looking,” Penn said.

“They go village to village in Ghana and in the Ivory Coast, they go village to village all throughout Egypt, and they identify kids that are barefoot, playing in the streets and offer them a full scholarship, full ride. We'll do the same thing. So it's a totally unique model globally coming into San Diego.”

Slow and steady

When might this all come to life? Penn preached patience, noting youth development doesn't happen overnight.

"It will take some time because we are not going to be a ready, instant academy," Penn said. "We're going to recruit and find the best 12-year-olds and begin with a sixth-grade class. So we're going to offer a residential experience where the kids will come live there, be educated, effectively like a boarding school, and then there's a character development program too.

"They'll live, eat, breathe football, and they're going to be co-mingled in the curriculum with the best of the best from Ghana, from Denmark, and from Egypt. … My goal is then in about five years, I'm back on your show and you're like, 'Wait a minute, what's happening down there?' Because it starts to really pay off."

Global scope

The Right to Dream network could funnel players from sister clubs to MLS, too. They could be youngsters or experienced veterans, like this week's additions of forward Marcus Ingvartsen and defensive midfielder Jeppe Tverskov from FC Nordsjaelland.

"What we will have right away is the mature talents, the 18-year-olds coming out of Ghana, coming out of Egypt, already coming out of Denmark, those types of players will be able to transfer in once they're 18 and will be on a trajectory where they could, should contribute right away," Penn said.

Ideally, there are also Designated Players driving the club forward. Penn, who helped launch LAFC nearly a decade ago, knows this well after helping bring Carlos Vela to MLS.

“The bigger opportunity and challenge with this build is that we're interrelated with Right to Dream," Penn continued. "So style of play is critically important. All these young boys and then young men are being trained to play a certain way and play together. So not only do we need a signature player, but we need a signature player in an age where he can come contribute. We need a signature player who's going to play a similar style and embrace [our identity].”