Burlingame Dragons owner Nick Swinmurn and Dragons President Jordan Gardner have announced plans for a possible United Soccer League (USL) expansion team in San Francisco.
The move could add another team in a possibly overcrowded Bay Area soccer market, which includes the San Jose Earthquakes, a potential Earthquakes USL team once the academy complex is complete, the North American Soccer League’s (NASL) San Francisco Deltas, development league teams such as the Burlingame Dragons and San Francisco City FC, all of whom call the Bay Area their home. It also sets up a Bay Area market showdown between the NASL and USL.
The NASL, once considered the second-best league behind MLS, is experiencing ’80s deja vu and may not last more than a few seasons due to the exodus of NASL teams for other leagues. Some believe that the league may not last past the 2017 season. The NASL has just eight teams playing this year, including the newly-minted Deltas.
Conversely, the USL is growing as soccer continues to saturate itself in the American landscape. The USL has 30 teams, and a new expansion in Nashville ready to be the 31st, which almost quadruples the NASL’s team capacity. With seven USL teams bidding for one of four MLS expansion teams, the USL may be looking to maintain its market if any of these bids are accepted, and what better markets than NASL markets where teams may not last another year?
San Francisco could be fertile soil for the USL, although the San Francisco Deltas are already claiming San Francisco as their turf and could put in their own USL bid. What may set this latest expansion bid apart from the Deltas is the possibility of a new stadium. The Deltas currently play in Kezar Stadium, and are probably there for the foreseeable future. This latest USL bid includes a new stadium, which would be a huge upgrade from the aged Kezar Stadium in which the Deltas currently play.
One other factor that should be considered is the impact on the San Jose Earthquakes. Rumors have been swirling about the Quakes expanding into the USL market as a farm team, similar to the Galaxy 2, Sounders 2, and Timbers 2. The bid does not address whether or not the team would/could be the USL affiliate of the Earthquakes, or if it would be its own team. At this point, it appears that the team would be free from the Earthquakes hierarchy, and would certainly influence the Quakes’ rights to players in the Bay Area.
The bid hopes to begin play in 2019, which could be the same season some USL teams depart for the MLS. For now, the ball is in the USL’s court.