SAN DIEGO — Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber announced Thursday that the city of San Diego has been handed an expansion franchise, thereby increasing the league to 30 teams.
The news was revealed during an event at Snapdragon Stadium, which is set to be the 35,000-capacity home for the San Diego franchise when it debuts in 2025. MLS’ latest expansion team will be owned by Egyptian billionaire Mohamed Mansour, the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation (now the first Native American tribe to co-own a U.S. professional soccer team) and San Diego Padres star Manny Machado.
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“We are thrilled to welcome San Diego to Major League Soccer as our 30th team,” Garber said in a Thursday news release. “For many years we have believed San Diego would be a terrific MLS market due to its youthful energy, great diversity, and the fact that soccer is an essential part of everyday life for so many people. Mohamed Mansour and the Sycuan Tribe have an incredible vision for building a club that will inspire and unite soccer fans throughout the city and region.”
“I am grateful for the opportunity to join the San Diego MLS ownership group,” added Machado in the press release. “I continue to plant roots in this amazing community that means so much to me and build upon my connection with the incredible fans.”
Additional owners include the Zephyr Partners’ Brad Termini and the Right to Dream’s Tom Vernon and Dan Dickinson. Controlled by Mansour’s London-based Man Capital firm, the Right to Dream is a Ghana-based academy that also owns the Danish top flight’s Nordsjaelland. MLS players including the New England Revolution’s Emmanuel Boateng and FC Dallas’ Ema Twumasi are products of the Right to Dream academy.
Additional Right to Dream locations have been built in Denmark and Egypt, with plans for a San Diego-based academy in the future.
“We look forward to introducing Right to Dream’s unique developmental approach and unparalleled soccer expertise to San Diego and MLS by delivering tangible benefits to the community as we look to open doors and identify and nurture talent from across the county and beyond,” said Mansour, who has stated that seven Right to Dream academy graduates took part in the 2022 World Cup.
Tom Penn, former president of LAFC, has been named as CEO for the new MLS franchise, with a name and crest to be revealed at a later date.
The San Diego project recently surpassed Las Vegas in the race for the league’s 30th team. In February, Garber stated that both cities were “the most likely opportunities for 30.” By last month, ESPN reported that San Diego’s group had gained more momentum. According to The San Diego Union-Tribune, the expansion fee for the MLS franchise “is in the $500 million neighborhood.”
San Diego will begin playing in MLS nearly three decades after former league commissioner Doug Logan noted in 1996 that the city was a “prime candidate” for expansion. Since then, an increasingly long list of rumors and reports have emerged regarding interested groups that wanted to bring the top flight of the sport to the Southern California city.
In 2018, one year after the Chargers moved from San Diego to Los Angeles, San Diego State University won a local election to redevelop the Mission Valley space that the Chargers once occupied into an extension of its campus that included the soon-to-be developed Snapdragon Stadium. A competing “SoccerCity” measure, led by U.S. men’s national team icon Landon Donovan, aimed to lure the next MLS franchise but ultimately lost the local election.
Snapdragon Stadium was built and opened by August 2022, and it is currently home to SDSU’s football program, Major League Rugby’s San Diego Legion and the National Women’s Soccer League’s San Diego Wave. In September 2022, the Wave broke the NWSL’s single-game attendance record with 32,000 packing the stadium for a regular-season game against Angel City FC. A month later, the Wave set an NWSL playoff attendance record with 26,215 watching a 2-1 win over the Chicago Red Stars at the venue.
After recently hosting a soccer friendly between Liga MX’s Club America and Club Tijuana in March 2023, Snapdragon Stadium will continue to host the sport this summer through a men’s national team exhibition between Mexico and Cameroon on June 10 and a CONCACAF Gold Cup semifinal match on July 12. On July 25, Manchester United will face Wrexham A.F.C. (owned by Hollywood stars Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney) in a friendly at the Mission Valley venue.
The San Diego Loyal, a local professional side that plays in the de facto men’s second division of professional soccer in the U.S., are reportedly not involved in the MLS project. Led by Donovan as the executive vice president of soccer operations, the team released a statement earlier this month from chairman and owner Andrew Vassiliadis that stated, “We aren’t going anywhere.”
Regarding additional expansion franchises in MLS, Garber has previously hinted that the league could go beyond 30 teams. However, he told ESPN at the event on Thursday that there were no immediate plans for further growth.
“We never say never to anything because, you know, our plan evolves as the market evolves. We never thought we’d be at 24, we never thought we’d be at 26,” he said.
“[But] I don’t think sitting here today that we have any plan in the near future to go beyond 30 teams. We’ve got a lot of work to do to build the league to sort of capture the opportunity that we all see in front of us in the years to come, particularly through 2026, but who knows what the future looks like after that, but nothing in the immediate future for sure.”