San Diego's new pro soccer team will play at 70,000-seat SDCCU Stadium on Saturday night.
In May 2018, LA Wolves FC of the United Premier Soccer League played ASC San Diego of the National Premier Soccer League in an exhibition game before a couple hundred people at Mission Bay High.
If you missed it, they’re essentially playing again Saturday night but in the same league now, and at a far larger venue.
San Diego’s 1904 FC makes its home debut at 7 p.m. at 70,000-seat SDCCU Stadium against California United Strikers FC in the new National Independent Soccer Association. 1904 FC’s roster is liberally sprinkled with ASC San Diego players, and Cal United has five guys from the LA Wolves team it owns.
Six starters in 1904 FC’s opening 2-0 loss at LA Force last Saturday played for ASC as recently as July in the NPSL semifinals: Ozzie Ramos, Dallin Cutler, Felipe Liborio, Eder Arreola, Christian Enriquez and Haitian goalkeeper Jean Antoine. Four others on the roster either trained with ASC or were part of its youth club, more commonly known as Albion.
Whether it was by chance or design, 1904 FC didn’t have many alternatives. To retain its third-division sanctioning by U.S. Soccer, NISA decided to play a six-game “showcase” season starting in September, meaning teams had to populate rosters before other American leagues like the second-division USL had completed their spring to fall seasons.
ASC San Diego finished the NPSL season in late July but planned to join a breakaway professional league called the Founders Cup that would start this month among NPSL clubs that aspired to a higher level. That fell apart last month after several clubs defected to the NISA. It has since been reorganized as the Members Cup, but ASC San Diego is not part of it and remains, for the time being, in the regular NPSL.
“It’s interesting to me that they have seven, eight, nine guys from ASC,” said Ziggy Korytoski, ASC’s head coach. “But we’re proud of what we’ve accomplished. We do a great job of developing talent. We bring in guys, develop them and people want our players.”
1904 FC, primarily owned by Senegalese soccer star Demba Ba, offered immediate work and higher salaries — between $1,400 and $2,000 per month, according to coach Alex Gontran — than the NPSL, which has a mix of pro and amateur players and is regarded as a notch lower in American soccer’s informal league pyramid.
The contracts, however, aren’t guaranteed past this fall, and Gontran said he’ll look for more players, possibly with a higher payroll available, for the NISA’s longer spring season.
1904 FC likely will have company by then. A San Diego USL team led by Warren Smith and Landon Donovan appears poised to start in 2020 instead of 2021, announcing earlier this week it will add 20 employees to its front office and nearing a deadline to make a rent payment to secure USD’s Torero Stadium for next year. It has scheduled what it is calling “some big club announcements” for Tuesday night.
In the meantime, 1904 FC must figure out a way to draw fans to a 70,000-seat football stadium for its three home games during the NISA Showcase. The others are Sept. 28 against the Oakland Roots and Nov. 2 against the LA Force.
Tickets, reduced from their initial prices, start at $17 for adults and $5 for children (although on Friday, 1904 FC was offering unlimited free tickets to some area youth clubs). Fans will be seated in the lower bowl and only on one sideline. A message on the club’s Twitter account Friday noted: “Tickets still available.”
1904 FC had its chances last Saturday against the Force before a modest crowd at Rio Hondo College in Whittier but is still looking for its first official goal in club history.
“Two things,” Gontran, the coach, said afterward. “The first one is, I’m upset to lose. Like every single coach, I hate losing. But I have a very good feeling about what we saw and what we produced on the field. I’m very proud of the players, and I’m very confident about the future.”