North America’s top-tier men’s Major League Soccer (MLS) has awarded its 30th franchise rights to the city of San Diego in California, which will join the league in 2025.
The expansion team was bought for a record $500 million by an investment group led by billionaire Mohamed Mansour, the founder and chairman of UK-based investment firm Man Capital, and the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation, the first Native American tribe to have an ownership stake in US professional soccer, according to the MLS.
The ownership group also includes professional baseball player Manny Machado, who plays for Major League Baseball’s San Diego Padres, and Brad Termini, co-founder of real estate firm Zephyr Partners.
Experienced sports executive Tom Penn has been named the new franchise’s chief executive having served as the president and co-owner of fellow MLS team Los Angeles Football Club until 2020.
MLS commissioner Don Garber said: “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.”
The as-yet-unnamed team will play at the 35,000-capacity Snapdragon Stadium in San Francisco starting in the 2025 season. The stadium is owned by San Diego State University and is the home of San Diego Wave, which entered the top-tier National Women’s Soccer League as an expansion team in 2022, as well as Major League Rugby’s San Diego Legion.
The stadium set the NWSL attendance record with a sell-out 32,000 crowd for the derby match against Angels FC that year.
It is also due to host a semi-final of Concacaf Gold Cup and a friendly match between Wrexham, the fifth-tier Welsh team owned by Hollywood actor Ryan Reynolds, and English giants Manchester United in July.
Mansour’s investment firm Man Capital owns Right to Dream (RTD), a group of youth academies, clubs, and partners that also owns the Danish top flight's Nordsjælland. MLS players including the New England Revolution's Emmanuel Boateng and FC Dallas' Ema Twumasi are products of the RTD academy.
RTD's first academy was launched in Ghana and additional locations have been built in Denmark and Egypt. There are plans for a San Diego-based academy in the future.
RTD's development model will play a central role in the new San Diego club’s philosophy and business strategy. The club will also lean heavily into its community links with the Sycuan Tribe.
Mansour said: “I am grateful for the opportunity to join the San Diego MLS ownership group. I continue to plant roots in this amazing community that means so much to me and build upon my connection with the incredible fans.
“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.
“We scouted the globe for the right opportunity with soccer, and San Diego ticked all the boxes.”
Sycuan tribal chairman Cody Martinez added: “Sycuan has deep roots to the San Diego community and found an incredible partner in Mohamed Mansour and the soccer expertise that he brings with Right to Dream.
“Sycuan continues to demonstrate its strong commitment to the San Diego region and our MLS team will provide us with a great opportunity to bring together many different segments of the community through their passion for the game.”
The San Diego franchise will be the latest to join MLS after St. Louis City, which started playing in the league this year. The first majority female-owned team in MLS history was awarded the rights in 2019.
A Las Vegas project was also mooted as a possible candidate to win the 30th franchise with Gerber last month stating both cities were “the most likely opportunities for 30.” However, by last month, reports in the country said the San Diego group had gained more momentum.