The Case for Pro Soccer in Santa Ana

Some people are aware that Santa Ana has been part of conversations to bring pro soccer to town, for years. There have been clubs, mainly minor league clubs playing at Santa Ana Stadium over the years, and some pro clubs have scouted and developed players here, that is well known by now.

Recently, there’s been fan involvement with trying to bring Major League Soccer to town, but that’s a broken record. Major League Soccer doesn’t have sufficient interest in Santa Ana for having their second LA area franchise play here. Regardless of their level of, or lack of, interest in Santa Ana, this city is a tremendous opportunity for a pro soccer club that doesn’t have to play in that league, that major soccer league or “MLS.”

But in order for a pro soccer club to find success in Santa Ana, some things have to happen. The first is finding a deep-pocketed owner with a net worth of $20 million USD, that is according to the United States Soccer Federation’s regulations. The second is, assuming there’s a committed owner, is repairing Santa Ana Stadium. Our stadium currently qualifies as a Division 2 stadium with its 9,000 seat capacity. U.S. Soccer categorizes a stadium of 5,000 as Division 2 and one of 15,000 as Division 1. The problem with getting to Division 1 is Major League Soccer, that requires a $100 million dollar entry fee. Their entry fees skyrocketed in the last 10 years and their league is closed, not allowing entry without buying in. They’re structured like the NBA and the NFL. In fact, MLS is comprised of some NBA, MLB and NFL shareholders, thus their league is closed, which differs from soccer leagues all over the world.

The Case of the Orange County Blues

The Orange County Blues of the United Soccer League (Division 3), that play in Irvine, are arguably out of touch with Santa Ana. I don’t see them marketing anywhere here, like what’s expected of a “professional” club. And now the pressure is higher for them to deliver given that their league, the USL, wants Division 2 status, which requires the Blues to have an at least 5,000 seat venue. When you look at the current Division 2 league, the North American Soccer League, you see their clubs bombard their communities with billboard ads, tv ads, and they successfully create community. That is not the case with the OC Blues.

Here’s a team touting itself as the county’s pro team but that has failed to create the proper fan experience and culture, the likes of a Charleston Battery or Carolina RailHawks. Santa Ana is perfect for soccer supporter culture with the downtown attractions being just minutes away on foot from Santa Ana Stadium, but no club has managed to connect the dots. The Blues played a match at Santa Ana Stadium, against Atlético Marte of El Salvador, but that was it. According to a supporter of that club, our stadium may likely turn out to be too costly for their ownership to lease for a season, but that is compounded by their failure at connecting and forming community with Santa Ana. Asking the mayor’s office to do a press release or leaving it up to what little fans that club has to do the footwork and heavy lifting when it comes to marketing, is not the way to capture Santa Ana. So because of OC Blues’ unwillingness to effectively engage with Santa Ana, this market is lost to them.

The Next Steps: Stadiums, Fields

Santa Ana is deserving of a pro club because of the amount of interest there is in the sport here. Just look at the leagues playing on weekends, the kids and young adults, the families that attend their matches, the people watching Liga MX at any given restaurant and I’ve only painted a small painting of the soccer experience is like in Santa Ana. Lola Gaspar started some soccer-viewing traditions of their own involving the World Cup, El Clásico between Real Madrid and Barcelona and more. Imagine gathering at Lola’s or The Good Beer Co, or at whatever point in the downtown prior to or after matches. That’s possible in Santa Ana, because we have it all, with or without Major League Soccer.
So if I were a soccer-loving multi-muillionaire wanting a team in Santa Ana I’d skip joining both Major League Soccer and the United Soccer League. I’d join the North American Soccer League, renovate Santa Ana Stadium, and establish a long-term partnership with the city to do maintenance on the field at the stadium, ideally replacing the artificial turf with with real grass. The stadium could still accommodate Mater Dei and others, like it has in years past. But what’s great about soccer’s potential in Santa Ana is that a team could play elsewhere in the city, so long as the venue can seat 5,000. There’s the possibility of expanding the capacity at Centennial Park, or at Santa Ana College’s track field, with the right partnership.

Identity

We need to look at our history in order to forge an identity. Who are we? A historic city. We adopted the “Saint” moniker that’s been with us since 1889, the year that Santa Ana High School was founded. We’ve been “Dons” since 1915, the year that Santa Ana College was founded. We adopted “Saint” and “Don” because of our Hispanic and californio heritage. The Saint fits with the landscape, the name of this and many other places in modern-day Southern California, what was once known as Alta California. The Don comes from the rancher period, that of the hacendados. We inherited our name from the Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana, the Santiago Ranch within the Santa Ana Valley. The valley got its name, Valle de Santa Ana, in 1769. That’s how deep we go back. This is part of who we are.

So given our history the following name proposals come forth:

Santiago F.C. (Football Club), Santa Ana Saints F.C., Santa Ana Dons F.C., Santa Ana F.C. Santaniegos FC

We do ourselves a great service by honoring our name and identity and by not accepting something offered to us in the form of an “Orange County Blue,” whatever that is. To say blue or blues is to cause confusion or reference to Chelsea F.C. of England, and it is blasphemy to be a wannabe club of a foreign club. Ask supporters what they think about Chivas USA’s associations with Guadalajara, and what they think of “New York City FC’s” involvement with Manchester City. A santaniego/a is a person from Santa Ana, any city named Santa Ana.

 

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Author: Omar Ávalos Gallegos

I'm a music composer, musicologist, pianist, flamenco guitarist and writer out of Santa Ana California. I've written on soccer in the past for Soccer Newsday, SB Nation and have contributed to TheCup.US and The Guardian US. Covered the 2017 NPSL Combine for Midfield Press. Started own soccer blogs including Saint City Post, Angeltown FC, The Anemometer and more.

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