With the NFL and MLB in the rearview mirror, Major League Soccer starts its 2020 season with their inaugural matches on February 29th. The season starts up quickly with a total of eight teams playing on the same opening day. San Francisco will not be a city participating in this year’s MLS season.
The MLS has gone the route of expanding its league with the number of teams participating, in order to gain more of a nation-wide audience. Last year it was Cincinnati, Ohio that made the jump to professional soccer and this year two teams have been added. The MLS decided to make it a 26 team league by integrating Inter Miami CF out of Florida, which is owned by global icon and soccer star David Beckham, and Nashville SC out of Tennessee.. In order to give these teams an extra “push” they were given the number 1 and 2 picks in the MLS draft for college players.
One major component to this season was the acquisitions that important teams made. Five time MLS Cup champion LA Galaxy made headlines around the world by _____ Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez, the Mexico National Team all-time top goal scorer for a reported $10 million. Hernandez joining the MLS was an important factor to the league because of his career background and media splash his name makes around the world after playing for high profile teams in Mexico, England, Spain, and Germany.
The real question after all of these new changes is where does this leave the city of San Francisco? One major possibility is the upgrade of the semi-pro soccer team San Francisco City Football Club that competes in the USL League Two, considered to be the fourth tier below the MLS.
The local FC is mostly owned by nonprofits and supporters but this is not stopping their MLS dream. Michael Gonos, the Director of Operations for SF City FC wants to make sure these supporters are always happy and made it clear they would love to join the MLS if the opportunity presented itself.
“We are dedicated to becoming a pro team, absolutely,” Gonos said. “We want to ensure that the process of doing so does not trample on the rights of our fans.”
If supporters believe that the club is moving in the direction of being a “sell out” then they may drop their stock in the team. Gonos believes that going the supporter owned route, compared to being solely owned by private corporations, will facilitate their journey to the MLS.
Gonos exclaims, “I think it a thing of genius, as it protects the interests of the fans as well as private investors, and it is designed to be flexible enough to accommodate growth. Above all, we need to remember that the reason for this club’s existence is to serve the community, not just play football.”
Although, the only way to keep these supporters happy is by winning games. If a team has enormous local support but isn’t winning games then it’s going to be challenging to create a push to the MLS. For the 2019 USL2 Southwest Division season, SF City FC finished 6th with a 4-7-3 record.
SF City FC must win more games and Gonos knows that.
“Given the way our club has been built, we naturally want to take a cautious approach with MLS. So, the way we intend to reach the next level of football is to be the best club at this level that we can. That means achieving greater success on the pitch.”
Gonos ultimately wants to grow his footprint within the community so that the MLS executives can see the local support and know they will have the ability to sell tickets. SF City FC currently plays at Kezar Stadium in San Francisco, which was the first home pitch for the San Francisco 49ers and Oakland Raiders. An MLS team must have an organic supporter group that shows the city is interested and has soccer fans in the Bay Area.
“We want to grow our community partnerships and do more to support charitable activities in the City, and especially give local players a chance to live their dream and represent San Francisco. If we are successful in this, then growth in other areas of the club follows along.” Gonos concluded.
San Francisco City FC will announce its 2020 schedule on Feb. 28.