A conversation with Liga MX fans about a potential MLS team in San Diego
The ongoing battle between SoccerCity and SDSU continues.
With a cherished plot of Mission Valley land up for grabs, both sides will face off in ballot boxes across the city this November to see who will be able to bring their ambitious projects to life in San Diego.
Anchoring the SoccerCity strategy is the plan to build a Major League Soccer (MLS) team for America's Finest City. Keeping in mind that there is a massive, thriving youth soccer scene in the region, and a bolt-shaped hole left in its sporting heart, San Diego appears as an ideal site for a first division club.
All that said, MLS has long struggled to win over a large group of soccer admirers who also live in San Diego: Liga MX fans. Whether it be due to an allegiance to Chivas, Xolos, Cruz Azul or other squads from south of the border, there's no lack of Mexican soccer supporters who tend to overlook MLS.
Speaking of which, last Saturday, thousands of those fans just so happened to be in attendance for a San Diego-based friendly between Club America and Xolos.
With SDCCU Stadium set as the venue, an estimated total of 25,000 Liga MX devotees made their way over to Mission Valley to watch the exhibition match. On the very site which SoccerCity is hoping to one day take charge of, countless Mexican soccer lovers piled into the stadium, hoping to catch a glimpse of their favorite Liga MX stars.
Could a San Diego team in MLS one day do the same?
In an attempt to provide some perspective, I talked with a few of these supporters about MLS.
More specifically, I chatted with them about their allegiance to Liga MX and their thoughts about a potential MLS club arriving to San Diego.
Here's what I learned:
"I think it would be fun, I would probably go to some games," said Martin Cuevas at a pre-match tailgate. With a Club America jersey on, there was no mystery as to who he was going to support in the friendly.
"I've been a [Club America] fan since I was a little kid. I've always watched them," he later added.
When asked whether he would root for a hometown MLS club over Club America, Cuevas was quick to note the difficulty of doing so. "I don't think I could do that. I mean, I would watch the MLS team but I'm a die-hard Americanista."
Adrian Madrigal, a Xolos fan on his way to the stadium from the parking lot, voiced similar feelings regarding supporting one club over the other.
"Obviously Xolos are my favorite," said Madrigal, who was sporting a Pablo Aguilar Xolos jersey. "I would root for the [potential San Diego-based] MLS team but Xolos are my favorite."
The responses weren't much of a surprise.
Like many other Latinos, Mexicans and Mexican-Americans, their fandom was likely started through an early influence from family and friends who follow the Liga MX. For a strong majority of these aficionados, it isn't out of the ordinary to have a passion for certain Mexican clubs for their entire lives.
That passion takes time to build, develop and grow. In several instances, this Mexican soccer fandom extends through multiple family generations --- which isn't exactly something that MLS teams can say.
Although American soccer itself has a long and fascinating history that far exceeds MLS, the current top division in the country has only existed since the 1990s.
Yet, that shouldn't also mean that a San Diego-based team has no chance of thriving. MLS is growing and it appears as though it's only a matter of time before more begin to take notice.
"I would support them, San Diego deserves a new team," said Isaac Zamudio, a Club America fan hanging out at a tailgate.
"America is my top club, but a local [MLS] team could win me over. I want a team to start," stated the America supporter.
In a city like San Diego that has a prominent Mexican-American identity, it wouldn't be much of a shock if a potential team signed a major superstar from El Tri that helped attract thousands of traditional Liga MX fans.
Luckily for those involved with SoccerCity, they can also learn from the mistakes that countless MLS sides have made when it comes to pursuing the Latino audience.
There's an immense amount of growth and interest to be created, and if developed correctly, a San Diego team could soon bring about the same kind of passion and fervor that many show for just a Liga MX friendly.
But, let's not get ahead of ourselves just yet.
SoccerCity still has to focus on the November ballot. After that, the real work begins.