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Monday, May 23, 2022

Can the Valley Score in Futbol?

I can think of no better outcome than if the Valley Industry & Commerce Association were able to bring a Major League Soccer franchise to the Valley. Of course, even if the group were successful, there’s no guarantee the team would be, either on the field, or off – but more on that later. This much we do know: the grand experiment to have two teams play at Carson’s StubHub Center was a grand failure. Well, make that partial. The L.A. Galaxy averaged more than 22,000 fans per game last year, second highest in the league (though well below the astounding 44,000 the Sounders draw in Seattle, where the team is practically as beloved as the NFL’s Seahawks – now that’s a sports town!) By comparison, Chivas USA drew a league low of less than 8,400, which really goes to show just how little theories often have to do with reality. I remember well when the league added Chivas as an expansion team in 2004. It was seen as a can’t miss, given how it was a spinoff of C.D. Guadalajara, a beloved Mexican league team affectionately known as “the goats” – or “chivas” in Spanish. Jorge Vergara owned both teams. Obviously, L.A. Latinos would pack the stands. Not. I have seen some theories on why the team failed to catch on, with uneven play among them. But there’s also the obvious point to be made: why should or would L.A. Latinos who love C.D. Guadalajara want to follow some MLS spinoff when they can see the real club on TV? Which brings us back to the VICA effort to bring MLS to the Valley. As reporter Elliot Golan spells out in detail in his front page story, VICA is willing to take any MLS team but the obvious catch is Chivas USA. The league has bought out the ownership and is in talks with prospective buyers. It wants to rebrand and rename the team, and it’s demanding any buyers be local and build a soccer-specific stadium. In case you haven’t been to Carson, let me tell you that the 30,000-seat Stub Hub Center is soccer-specific, wonderful and with not a single bad sight line. It also cost Anschutz Entertaintainment Group $150 million, no small sum, though just a fraction of the $1 billion plus new NFL stadiums are going for these days. So getting soccer to the Valley more than a decade after StubHub is no small task. And VICA rightly is focusing on a stadium site, with the dilapidated Valley Plaza shopping center in North Hollywood seen as real possibility. Raze it and there you are with prime land. One way VICA has been trumpeting its bid for a team is by stressing the high number of Latinos in the Valley, noting that second-generation immigrants are the biggest attendees of live soccer. That’s fine. Get a team, build a stadium and I’m sure they’ll check it out. Indeed, a major problem with two teams in Carson was that, frankly, who wants to go to Carson? Most people, Latinos included, on the Westside and Valley probably aren’t even sure where it is. But I’m not sure that once again, new ownership should build its attendance base on the assumption the stands will be filled with Latinos. It has to be broader than that. I went to an L.A. Galaxy game this year and I’m certain Latinos were a minority in the stands. The fact, is, as we all know from the World Cup, the soccer fan base is growing. My two kids played AYSO and if you have never been an AYSO parent let me assure you that kids soccer today is what Little League was when you were young. Go ahead, call it by its Spanish name – futbol – but if an MLS team is going to be successful in the Valley, yes, it will need a nice soccer specific stadium, but even more than that, it will need broad support from all of us – something that is desirable and seems eminently achievable. Laurence Darmiento is editor of the Business Journal. He can be reached at editor@sfvbj.com.

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