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San Diego: Soccer City USA


Aired 7/15/10

The U-S soccer team won over plenty of Americans during the World Cup, but San Diego didn't need any convincing. San Diego is a soccer hotbed.

DWANE BROWN (Anchor): Project Twenty 10, a briefly touted goal for the U.S. soccer team to win the World Cup, didn't happen, but they did get out of the first round and increased their U.S. fan base. Mark Zeigler, sports writer for the San Diego Union-Tribune, has covered every World Cup since 1990. He just got back from Johannesburg, South Africa and joins us on Morning Edition. Mark, thanks for coming in.

MARK ZEIGLER: My pleasure.

BROWN: Did you run into any other people from San Diego or the U.S. there?

ZEIGLER: Actually, I did -- you would be amazed at how many people from San Diego were in South Africa, touring around, watching games. I mean, you know, I lost count at probably about 25, which means there were probably 50 or 100. It just shows, you know there are a lot of people from here who follow the sport, have the means to travel there, and sort of have the spirit of adventure to go to these World Cups. There was one guy I met who's been to every World Cup since 1994, and he just goes every four years.

BROWN: In fact, you say San Diego is a soccer town compared to other U.S. cities. Why?

ZEIGLER: You know, I just read the other day where Portland, Oregon is trying to tout itself as 'Soccer City, U.S.A.' and I just sort of laugh when I see that.

BROWN: Portland, Oregon.

ZEIGLER: We're 'Soccer City, U.S.A.' I don't think there's a close second. In terms of the demographic makeup of the city, in terms of the weather allowing our youth programs to flourish -- people can play all year round. Our proximity to the border, of you know just a soccer-mad nation, and sort of the cross-border traffic that we have. The history of the San Diego soccer team, the professional team was very good, the college teams here are all top 20 teams. So we're just, you know, every aspect of the sport here is huge and big.

BROWN: How does the -- the World Cup event speak to the larger global relationship we have with our international neighbors here at home?

ZEIGLER: If you look at the ratings, the television ratings in San Diego -- we were far and away the best in the country. Particularly when the United States played, we were double the national average, and that's just on the ESPN, ABC ratings -- the English-language ratings. Now you start to factor in the Spanish-language, Univision, or people picking up the Mexican telecast from Tijuana, Mexican networks, over the air on rabbit ears. The ratings are just massive, and it just shows that we're a very, very global city. We're not a city in the middle of the country that just cares about our local high school sports, or our one or two pro teams. We look globally, and it's not always apparent, but when you have an event like this, it sort of allows the city to show what it's all about, and I think, you know, when you see those kind of television ratings, it explains to people what we really are as a city. We're not like a lot of other cities. We're very cosmopolitan, we're very sort of globally oriented.

BROWN: We also have a large Latino population, and African population as well.

ZEIGLER: Basically, anyone from another country is going to be a huge soccer fan when they get here. It's different than being in the United States, and having to sort of cultivate that interest in the game, and that's a different animal all together. And that's what U.S. soccer's been trying to do for two decades now, or maybe even longer. When you have fans from another country come here they're ready-made fans. They're already soccer fans; they're already passionate about the sport. It's in their blood. And so, we have quite a bit of that in San Diego, and I think that is one of the reasons we're such a soccer hotbed.

BROWN: Well, you know, I'm not a big soccer fan, I love the other U.S. sports. It seems like it's a long game and the scoring happens, uh, infrequently. So what do you think it will take for the U.S. to catch on to the sport?

ZEIGLER: I think two things will have to happen. The first is just a growing process, and it'll happen over time. You have to watch more games, you have to understand the sport, you have to understand how the sport works in the rest of the world. And the second thing that's gonna happen is the U.S. team's gonna actually have to win. We like winners in this country. We don't put up with teams that just make the second round and lose all the time. We're not very good at that.

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Avatar for user 'rsw'

rsw | July 16, 2010 at 3:24 p.m. ― 6 years, 8 months ago

Not sure what purpose was served by disrespecting Portland. But, for the record, Portland has had the moniker of "Soccer City USA" since the NASL days in the '70s. This is nothing new. Portland has had, and continues to have, an incredibly passionate and thriving soccer culture that has always supported it's professional franchises very well.

And maybe San Diegans melt in the rain, but we play soccer here year round.

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Avatar for user 'rdp'

rdp | July 16, 2010 at 3:42 p.m. ― 6 years, 8 months ago

Mark, I split a fair amount of time between San Diego and Portland. Portland has a long-standing history with that name, and I fear you're going to get some backlash over your comment. I'm sure it was said without malice, but Portland's fans won't take it that way.

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Avatar for user 'ZD'

ZD | July 16, 2010 at 3:58 p.m. ― 6 years, 8 months ago

A real clash of geniuses here.

"We're Soccer City! [in spite of having no first division, second division, third division, *or even fourth division* competitive clubs...]"

"Soccer is long!"

Innocent pixels died for this.

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Avatar for user 'CrunchCrunch'

CrunchCrunch | July 17, 2010 at 2:05 p.m. ― 6 years, 8 months ago

San Diego isn't Soccer City USA. Period. Tell me once anyone has heard of the wildly passionate support San Diego gives to soccer. So Mark, buddy, I know you write about soccer. You should probably know the history of it in your own country before you go and shoot your mouth off on the radio and make yourself look like a fool.

This is a selection from a press release put out a decade ago.

"During their inaugural season in 1975, the Timbers advanced to the NASL Soccer Bowl creating an instant love affair with their fans, which earned Portland the moniker "Soccer City USA." Additionally the largest crowd ever to see an event at Civic Stadium occurred August 28, 1977 when 35,548 fans watched the New York Cosmos beat the Seattle Sounders in Soccer Bowl ‘77."

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Avatar for user 'EVK'

EVK | July 18, 2010 at 2:41 p.m. ― 6 years, 8 months ago

San Diego and Portland are the only two cities I have lived in my entire life (age 40). Most recently lived in San Diego (for a second time ... lived there as a kid for 5 years too) from 2005-2008. While I will say SD has a lot going for it soccer wise, the missing element is a professional soccer team.

Yes, you have USD and SD State who have solid programs and some name alumni (Balboa, . Went to a couple USD games (one against UCLA) when I lived there in about 2007 and I have to tell you they don't even compare to the atmosphere at University of Portland where the Teams are expected to be top 25 year in and out, where the women have won 2 national championships, where many games have crowds in the 3-5,000 range. UofP boasts alumni such as Kasey Keller, Steve Cherundolo, Connor Casey, Nate Jaqua, Shannon McMillan, Tiffany Milbrett, Christine Sinclair, and other essentially household names for anyone who follows US soccer.

I realize living in San Diego nobody even thinks about Portland, Oregon (believe me, I know) ... but the fact is that Portland is essentially equal to San Diego with youth programs, has a college (very similar to USD in the University of Portland) which actually has a better local following and history of success even if not recognized for it outside the area. Portland also has a USSF division II professional team (The Timbers) who unlike the Sockers still exist, still put 10-16K into the stadium a night for second flight soccer and are moving up to MLS next year.

I honestly think the above comments were out of ignorance, and as I said, nobody even thinks about Portland in SD. But domestic soccer never died in the Northwest (even though it took the MLS 10 years to figure that out) and Portland has called itself SC USA since 1975. Seattle thinks it should be called this now based on Sounders attendance. Rochester NY for a time claimed the nickname in the 1990s and I realize San Diego has called itself this on and off since the 70s too.

I truly hope for San Diego (and I have honestly not followed the issue since moving back to Portland again about 2 years ago) that when/if the Chargers sort out a new stadium that it is also soccer ready and you guys either resurrect the Sockers in some form or get Chivas USA to move to SD.

Please don't get me wrong ... SD is a great soccer town, but ignorance of the fact that Portland is just as good with youth programs, has arguably a better college program than both USD, SD State and definitely UCSD ... plus has an MLS team coming in where the atmosphere in the stadium will be second to none (sure Seattle has 35K in their stadium, but 32K sit on their hands where Portland has 5k standing and chanting the entire game and at times the entire stadium joins in).

Anytime Soccer City Southern California wants to visit and check out the Timbers or UofP scene, you are more than welcome to visit!

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Avatar for user 'EVK'

EVK | July 18, 2010 at 2:55 p.m. ― 6 years, 8 months ago

Again, I realize that this program was meant for local consumption only ... but correction:

Final Mens NCAA rankings 2009. UofPortland = 17th. No San Diego schools in top 25.

Final Womens NCAA rankings 2009. UofPortland = 5th. No San Diego schools in top 25.

Also note Oregon State (who had the #1 pick to the MLS last year) ranked in both polls.

Again, Portland is certainly a city that easily slips under the radar in many places including San Diego, but ignorance (which in listening to the clip with the surprised "Portland, Oregon?" comment) is not a basis for any opinion.

Mr. Zeigler -- you should come up this fall and check out a weekend of UofP games and see the Timbers give a hearty farewell to the USL squad (few of these guys will be playing MLS) in September. I think you'd enjoy it, though the stadium will still be playing soccer in a baseball stadium until the construction begins this fall.

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Avatar for user 'Lean'

Lean | July 18, 2010 at 9:45 p.m. ― 6 years, 8 months ago

"We also have a large Latino population, and African population as well."

Wow Brown, this's the biggest (common) mistake ever. I need to remember (or inform you in this case) Miami and Tampa? Why the "latino and african" population didn't supported these teams and they crashed? (maybe 'cause in this case they prefer Baseball and Basketball??? O.o)
*of course this is just a especulation, just like yours.

But how can u explain that places like Seattle (36k per game), Philadelphia (second in average attendance) and Portland (aka SOCCER CITY USA) have a large fanbase that are composed in majority by whites???

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Avatar for user 'Lean'

Lean | July 18, 2010 at 9:48 p.m. ― 6 years, 8 months ago

Oh, and by the way, San Diego Soccer City? Why I never heard about them in the Soccer Community before? I mean, no disrespect but to self-proclaim Soccer City USA? calm down...

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