USMNT players say San Diego would make good site for MLS expansion

San Diego waterfront

SAN DIEGO – The city of San Diego was in the spotlight on Sunday afternoon, when the US national team hosted Serbia in front of an audience that included MLS Commissioner Don Garber.

An announced crowd of 20,079 attended the 0-0 draw, the first game of the second Bruce Arena era and against an opponent the US had never previously faced.

A hot topic throughout the day at the game was the bid to bring an MLS expansion team to San Diego, with an ownership group recently emerging publicly and announcing plans for a new stadium where Qualcomm Stadium currently sits, in conjunction with San Diego State University. The group on Monday submitted a formal application ahead of Tuesday's deadline, in accordance with the regulations of the next phase of MLS expansion.

US players, eight of the 23 on Sunday’s roster having grown up in California and several others with various ties to the state, were also asked about the prospects of San Diego becoming an MLS city in the near future. The responses were positive.

New York Red Bulls midfielder Sacha Kljestan touted the lifestyle appeals of San Diego.

“I think it’s a great idea,” he said. “I think it would be a very highly sought-after destination for players. It’s obviously a very nice place to live. The weather can’t be beat; the food is awesome. Sign me up.”

Two players who got their first USMNT caps on Sunday, Jorge Villafaña and Sebastian Lletget, both endorsed MLS in San Diego as well.

“This is a great city. I think it would be a great place for an MLS team," said Villafaña, of Liga MX side Santos Laguna. "We’ll see in the future if they’ll bring it, but I think it would be a great market for an MLS team.

Lletget, who plays just up the road for the LA Galaxy, agreed.

“I think that would be great," he said. "This is a great state; why not?” 

Perhaps the player best situated to weigh in on the discussion is defender Greg Garza. About to play in MLS for the first time in his career, with expansion side Atlanta United, Garza played for Liga MX side Club Tijuana for most of the last five years and mentioned the competition a San Diego MLS team would likely face just across the border.

“I’ve had this talk with a lot of friends in San Diego. I think it would be wonderful for this city to bring a [team],” he said. “I would say the only thing is how can you bring so many San Diegans back from Tijuana to watch the San Diego games, you know? I think the stadiums in Tijuana, especially the Estadio Caliente, probably gets about 40, 45 percent of people crossing the border. You see a lot of white guys like me in the stadium.”

The San Diego prospective ownership group is hosting a press conference on Monday, with MLS Commissioner Don Garber scheduled to attend. The USMNT players appear to support the bid, but with fierce competition for the next four expansion slots in MLS, San Diego’s road to MLS expansion may be just beginning.