Soccer in California: Beyond the Bay and Los Angeles

SACRAMENTO, CA - JULY 18: Jack Colback
SACRAMENTO, CA - JULY 18: Jack Colback /

There is a lot more to the soccer scene in California and Nevada than just Los Angeles. Here, we look beyond the Bay at what is happening this offseason.

It is hard to imagine the future of U.S. soccer without the Los Angeles clubs being at the heart of it, especially given their ability to attract big stars. To a lesser and perhaps still biased extend, I extend that to San Jose Earthquakes, who many people forget have MLS Cups and Supporters Shields to their name as well. However, looking beyond the Los Angeles and San Francisco-centric metropolitan areas, the tales of soccer elsewhere in California and Nevada are a mixed bag. So, how is the soccer scene around the Bay area preparing for the offseason? Well, let’s have a skirt around the Bay and beyond.

San Diego Loyal

Along with Landon Donovan as manager, Carrie Taylor is set to become the USL’s only woman to be in an assistant (or any) coaching position for the upcoming 2020 season.

These are just a few exciting aspects ahead of San Diego Loyal’s debut. San Diego is the second-largest city in California and the eighth largest in the United States, but since the now Los Angeles Chargers left, it is the only city in the top 10 with only one professional sports team. The existence of two LA-based MLS clubs, as well as some news I’ll cover later in this article, likely hinders their chance at reaching MLS, but this still signifies a new start and a new era of San Diego sports.

While residents of the city will still likely travel south of the border to Tijuana to get their Xolos fix, San Diego Loyal has a solid foundation to give this community something else to cheer for within the city limits. San Diego is a city where a diverse group of people who love soccer, play pickup in just about any park you’ll visit, and their LAFC and LA Galaxy supporter groups turn up in big numbers for those games, many of which are intrigued to see what San Diego Loyal can accomplish as well.

Reno 1868

2019 USL Championship Season: 2nd in Western Conference, lost to the Sacramento Republic 3-1 in the first round proper of the playoffs

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Reno is the current San Jose Earthquakes USL affiliate and featured many players on loan this season from familiar clubs. Along with Matt Bersano, Siad Haji, Jacob Akanyirige, and Cade Cowell spending some time there on loan from the Quakes, Benjamín Galindo from Chivas de Guadalajara is still currently listed as their player. This shows that what Reno is building is something that more clubs are interested in for developing their players. As more eyes turn their attention to the next city and club on this list, the biggest little city in the world is not out of place in the soccer world with its juxtaposition in between Northern California and Las Vegas.

Las Vegas Lights

2019 USL Championship Season: 13th in Western Conference, five points away from playoffs

The Las Vegas Lights couldn’t quite yet capture the magic that the Golden Knights conjured to get up and running in the NHL. They might be best known outside of the USL for being the 14th and currently (looking more like permanently) last entry in once-wonderkid Freddy Adu’s soccer resume from his time with the club in 2018. But that won’t stop this team from growing. Las Vegas is making a push to be a real sports town beyond betting, boxing, and UNLV. Soccer will surely be a part of that equation, and maybe the rivalry between Reno and Las Vegas can heat up in the near future.

Fresno FC

2019 USL Championship Season: 3rd in Western Conference, lost to El Paso Locomotive FC 3-2 in the first round proper of the playoffs

The Zorros, or Foxes, should have had a terrific year considering their performances this season. But unfortunately, all of that gets overshadowed by the ownership’s decision to move the club from Fresno. At the time of writing, the club has not yet folded. All we know is that Fresno, the fifth-largest city in California and the largest city in the state’s Central Valley Region, will not be represented in the USL in 2020.

This is a huge blow for an often neglected region. Fresno, in particular, is home to many football fans, many of them first or second-generation immigrants who work blue-collar jobs in a part of the state and country that produces food and other products we use and take for granted. This is the type of town in Europe, Latin America, and other regions of the world where soccer is the heartbeat that keeps it going. It really is unfair to this fanbase. Fresno FC also suffered tragedy earlier this year when 24-year-old Moises Martinez passed away due to a brain aneurysm, according to ABC 30 (Fresno’s ABC affiliate).

Sacramento Republic

2019 USL Championship Season: 7th in Western Conference, defeated New Mexico United 2-1 in the play-in round, defeated Reno 1868 1-3 in the first round proper, but lost 3-0 to El Paso Locomotive FC in the Conference semi-finals

MLS, Sacramento Republic FC
It’s not the easiest transition to go from Fresno’s story to Sacramento, but it’s good to end on a high note. Imagine having a season like the Sacramento Republic had but still have something better to be excited about? Like getting approved to be an MLS club! Now, don’t get me wrong, I love promotion and relegation as much as the next guy. It’s great in England, Germany, and heck all of the other leagues (there’s a lot, to be fair) that have them. However, the USA’s currently pro-soccer league system is still only 23 years old. Try getting North American investors to invest in a team that could get plunged into the second division. It’s a tough sell. /

So, in this weird soccer reality we live in, expansion into the biggest soccer league in the country is still a big deal for the Sacramento Republic, the city of Sacramento, and their fans. I had the pleasure of going to a few games through my time as an undergraduate student at UC Davis. Bonney Field felt like an MLS atmosphere back then. I’m not saying they’ll become Atlanta United right away when they join the MLS, but Sacramento deservedly got their number called after being the MLS bridesmaid forced to congratulate several other cities over the years.

Next. USMNT abroad: Tim Weah, Tyler Adams return. dark

California and Nevada are states well known by the general public for their entertainment in the form of natural parks, gambling, and movies. For soccer fans, they are well known as a hotbed for passion of the sport. But it is not just the San Jose Earthquakes, Los Angeles Galaxy, and LAFC generating excitement. Despite the setback with Fresno, there is more good to come from these other clubs. Plans for further USL Championship expansion in the East Bay Area will contribute as well. Here’s to 2020 delivering on our expectations and enjoyment of the beautiful game.