San Diego is approaching its third season in the Post-Charger era. Which newcomer sports team filled the void that the Bolts left?
The former Qualcomm Stadium saw its final game of NFL football on the first day of 2017, a 37-27 Charger loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. The 2016 Chargers ended their season at 5-11 among a general feeling of apathy in the San Diego community, especially after the anticlimactic postponement of the move to Los Angeles after the 2015 season.
But that time is long gone. The Chargers get to hang out in Carson with basically no fanbase now, and they’re not coming back anytime soon. Once it became clear that there would be no professional football in San Diego post-Spanos, a series of would-be sports entrepreneurs smelled blood in the water, and stepped in to fill what I’m calling the Charger Void. San Diego’s seen an influx of expansion franchises since 2017, each of which has succeeded, failed, and some melange of both in unique ways.
NOTE: This piece will not cover long-established franchises like the Padres, Gulls, Sockers, or any of the college teams. Also the Seals kinda seem like their own thing.
SD Legion (Major League Rugby)
Rugby seemed like the natural candidate to replace American Football in San Diego, and San Diego Legion had decent success as the heir apparent to the throne as king of outdoor gridiron sports featuring an oblong ball in SD. Last season, Legion made the second ever Major League Rugby final, hosted at USD’s Torero Stadium in front of a pretty substantial crowd. Unfortunately Legion lost a four-point lead to the Seattle Seawolves late in the match and finished as league runner-up.
Despite this failure, Legion has established a good fanbase in what seems to be a stable, growing league. San Diegans might be smart to get on the Legion bandwagon because they’ve got a mix of success, support, and stability which we’ll come to find many other potential usurpers don’t.
San Diego Fleet (Alliance of American Football)
Ah, yes, speaking of instability, who can forget the Fleet’s run as the crown jewel of SDCCU Stadium? The Fleet secured a 3-5 record in the eight games they played in the 2019 season, and the final two games scheduled have been postponed indefinitely due to the league’s financial collapse, which happened basically because the one genuinely rich person among a series of pretend rich people in the league’s front office withdrew his money.
But while they were here, the Fleet put on a good show. They were a mediocre team in a league made up of mediocre teams, they didn’t have a ton of fans show up, and… well, they’re never going to play a second season. But maybe the XFL will expand here by after a few seasons and that Fleet spirit will live on.
San Diego Strike Force (Indoor Football League)
If you don’t know who the Strike Force are, then you are not alone. The Strike Force played their inaugural season in Pechanga Arena as the fourth best ticket available in that building. At the very least, the Sockers (MASL), Gulls (AHL), and Seals (NLL) made the playoffs. The Strike Force played poor football in front of empty seats, winning one game in a fourteen-game season. In three of those games, they failed to break twenty points, a rarity in indoor football. Probably the worst game of the season came on June 1st, which they lost to the Sioux Falls Storm by a score of 60-7. I myself did not know that this team existed until I tried to buy Sockers tickets on the Pechanga Arena website (I did not end up getting said Sockers tickets)
Unlike the Fleet, however, the Strike Force and the Indoor Football League look to be sticking around for 2020. So, if you’re looking to get in on the ground floor for some San Diego football… The Strike Force, I guess, is your team. 2020 season ticket packages are available now for 12 dollars per game.
1904 FC (NISA) / As of Yet Named USL Team (USL)
The San Diego metro area is the 17th largest Metropolitan Statistical Area by population in the United States. San Diego is the third largest Metro Statistical Area by population without either a team in the top two tiers of American professional soccer (We stand behind Miami and Detroit, the former of which has been a season away from joining MLS for roughly the entirety of this decade, and the latter of which is committed to system-fighting and staying in NPSL). This is about to change in the 2020 season with an upcoming USL expansion bid, make San Diego likely the 39th team in the USL Championship. The man on the left in the image above Warren Smith, co-founder of Sacramento Republic FC, and the identity of the man on the right is unknown.
USL is growing and seems to have a pretty decent head on its shoulders, bringing good soccer to smaller-time cities like Louisville, Charleston, Irvine, and Las Vegas. The United Soccer League seems to be doing something strange in modern American sports by actually being a pretty stable, growing league with a vision for the future. This upcoming San Diego team will play in USD’s Torero Stadium, same place that MLR’s Legion plays, and… I’ll probably buy tickets if I’m still living here through 2020. Also, interestingly enough, there are plans to potentially move to San Diego State’s planned Mission Valley stadium in 2022 when it’s finally constructed.
The much less stable and thus much more interesting upcoming soccer team in San Diego is San Diego 1904 FC. 1904 FC’s history is much older than the USL franchise’s history. 1904 announced its presence in the summer of 2017 with an ownership consisting of European soccer players like Demba Ba and Eden Hazard, and was supposed to begin play in the North American Soccer League in 2018. However, that league folded before the 2018 season could ever begin. Much of the rest of the former NASL either joined the USL and Canadian Premier League or dropped to the National Premier Soccer League.
1904 FC made a bid at joining the USL, and it was rejected. 1904’s story seemed to end there, until rumblings of a new league, named the National Independent Soccer Association, started making the rounds in late 2018. The NISA right now is a bit of an enigma in American soccer discussion circles, as they’ve announced plans to begin play in September 2019 despite having three or four teams actually named, and zero players currently signed. The NISA website features a countdown to the opening match on its home screen, which sits at 57 days away at time of writing.
That’s not a lot of time for the NISA to get off the ground. However, if my skepticism proves to be wrong and 1904 FC finally kicks off, it’ll be at USD’s Torero Stadium this coming fall. If they do… Then, I’ll probably get a ticket to the opening game and attend very few other matches.
Regardless, I don’t think any of these teams will fully fill the Charger-sized void in San Diegans’ hearts. I don’t think anything short of a Padres World Series run, or an Aztec football renaissance, or that USL team becoming an MLS expansion team with success at the level of Atlanta United or Los Angeles Football Club will do so.