Behind the Scenes with Landon Donovan on #MLSinSD
American soccer legend Landon Donovan is all in to bring Major League Soccer to San Diego – #MLSinSD
A simple, honest and heartfelt interview the America’s most coveted soccer player — Landon Donovan opens up about the importance of bringing together San Diego’s soccer community to help make the dream of an MLS franchise a reality. Calling for everyone to be a part of history — Donovan wants everyone to realize they have a chance to make a real impact.
GoalNation’s Diane Scavuzzo spoke with Donovan on why he wants to make sure everyone in America’s Finest City vibrant youth soccer landscape gets involved.
The chances of San Diego becoming one of the few cities in America to get an MLS team improved dramatically when Landon Donovan joined forces with Nick Stone and the investor group working on bringing a MLS franchise to Mayor Kevin Falconer’s fair city. Replacing the Chargers with a professional soccer team would be a great accomplishment and harness the vibrant soccer passion pulsating in San Diego.
Now that Landon Donovan is the #MLSinSD champion, FS Investors’s plan to bring a MLS franchise, build a 30,000 soccer specific stadium and develop an amazing 166 acre sports and entertainment district just looks more real. Somehow, the idea of U.S. Soccer’s most legendary player not being rewarded with an MLS franchise seems improbable — but there are still many challenges ahead.
One challenge is the fractioned and often friction-filled landscape of competitive youth soccer — one that Donovan is aptly capable of reaching and bringing together for the good of the game.
Donovan announced earlier this month that he has stake in the ownership alongside FS Investors.
The all-time leading U.S. Men’s National Team and MLS assist and goal scoring leader moved to the most southern city in California last year with his wife and young son.
Donovan is quite literally getting into the act to help build momentum for the initiative.
Donovan will join 14-time indoor soccer champions San Diego Sockers of the Major Arena Soccer League (MASL) in pushing the MLS initiative by playing in the 2nd Annual Celebrity Halftime Game on Sunday, March 12th, at the Valley View Casino Center. Kickoff is set for 5:05 p.m. PT.
Here is our interview:
Diane Scavuzzo: What do you think our chances are of getting a MLS team in San Diego?
Landon Donovan: Good – I hope — that is what I am working on. I live here and love it.
There is a gold mine of talent here. Aside from Los Angeles and maybe a few places on the East Coast, San Diego is a great Soccer City — especially as far as youth soccer is concerned.
So, that’s awesome for us, but it’s also a big responsibility.
Having an MLS team means we will have a top notch academy. We have to get it right. Our objective is to work with everybody here that loves soccer and cares about it — all the stakeholders in the San Diego soccer community — to make this work and thrive.
Diane Scavuzzo: How important is it for San Diego youth clubs to get behind this initiative?
Landon Donovan: Without the support of the soccer community this will not happen.
If people want MLS to come to San Diego — if they want this beautiful project to come together in Mission Valley – they need to support us.
They need to take the time to educate themselves about what we are doing.
People also need to take the time to sign the initiative that will be coming very soon.
If you do those things, along with supporting local soccer in general, I have no doubt we will get an MLS team here. Everyone can say at the end of the day that we all had a hand in doing this.
It won’t happen without the people helping us – we need them too.
Diane Scavuzzo: How do you think clubs are feeling with the possibility of an MLS team coming to San Diego?
Landon Donovan: I would imagine that any youth club — that has strong ties in a community — might feel threatened. They also probably would feel excited and maybe a little unsure as to what it means for their club. I understand that because in a lot of cases these men and women have been building clubs for decades.
My message to everybody is that this is a collaboration, it’s a group effort and is reciprocal.
Diane Scavuzzo: If you turned back the clock to when you were 14 — and imagined yourself as a kid living in San Diego, what would you have thought of an MLS team coming to town? What would you think as a youth soccer player?
Landon Donovan: I would be begging my mom every day to go and tryout for that team. [Laughs] And we hope that’s the case. It doesn’t mean automatically that just because we have an MLS youth academy that we are the best and that we are doing it the right way.
We have to earn that and prove to people that this is the best option for a child – that this is a youth player’s best chance and opportunity to become a professional. We have to prove that over time, but if it were me, this would have been a dream come true as a player.
Diane Scavuzzo: What are your thoughts on the possible San Diego MLS Academy?
Landon Donovan: My interest is to have the very best players coming through our academy so they can represent San Diego.
I hope that all the clubs see that the same way — so they can be proud and say “for 6 or 8 years we helped develop that kid and passed them on to the San Diego MLS team. Now look at what they are doing.”
On our part, we need to reciprocate and be able to help clubs.
We want to make sure that the we’re not just taking but giving as well.
Diane Scavuzzo: How do you feel about MLS teams compensating for youth development to a youth club?
Landon Donovan: I am all about doing what’s right and being fair.
So, if a local club spends six years training a player and developing them as a person, why wouldn’t we compensate them in some way.
I don’t know how the lawsuit is going to turn out, but to me that’s a fair idea. There are a lot of creative ways to do this. It doesn’t have to just be writing a check. It can also be tied to the stake in how the child does. If they make the first team and play so many games, a club could get compensated. If the child is sold and lives their dream of playing in a European league – a club would get a piece of that transfer fee too.
I think the rising tide lifts all the boats.
There are lots of ways that everybody can be incentivized. I think it is also important to help youth soccer clubs with catching education — Help coaches and players understand what it means to play and coach at the highest level.
Diane Scavuzzo: What about a women’s team?
Landon Donovan: Right now, the thought of a women’s professional team is not something we’ve talked about. I have spoken with Shannon MacMillan about that on the women’s side.
What we absolutely will do from day one is have a USSF Girls’ Development Academy.
When you look at the big picture goal for the boys, they will have a path to a professional team. Our hope is that at some point in the near future there will also be a path to a women’s team.
Diane Scavuzzo: What is your greatest concern — if local soccer clubs do not get behind this?
Landon Donovan: I don’t anticipate a scenario where clubs don’t get behind this because I think we’re doing this with the right intentions.
My hope is that everybody sees what an incredible opportunity this is for San Diego and for each individual youth player.
Like I said, if we can put our individual interests aside and decide what is best for a player, everyone wins. We want to do what’s best for every child.
Of course, we’re to take the best players and make them professional and help our first team one day.
Diane Scavuzzo: There are tens of thousands of youth soccer players in San Diego. What is your plan to work with the youth soccer clubs?
Landon Donovan: I have started the process of reaching out to clubs already. My goal is to speak with many of the youth soccer clubs in San Diego in order to let them know that we want to do this together.
I would love to have a large round table with everybody in town who has a stake in this and who this project may impact – both negatively and positively. I want to hear what their concerns are and to talk about it.
We are open, honest and transparent in our conversations — so we can get it right for everybody and not just for us.
Diane Scavuzzo: Let’s turn back time for a moment — What is your favorite soccer memory?
Landon Donovan: I grew up from a low-income background. Soccer gave me the ability to sit here today and say that I’m an owner and partner of a potential MLS team.
While I care about what happens with the MLS team and care about soccer as a whole, I’m more passionate about finding the next kids that can have the same opportunity that I have.
I think about those kids who are not getting that opportunity currently. I’ve lived it all, so I know all the mistakes you can make and how to do things the right way. I want to be able to pass that along and I think we have an opportunity here through the MLS team to do that. It would be a real shame to let that pass us by.
Diane Scavuzzo: What’s a mistake you have made that you would try and encourage other players not to?
Landon Donovan: My biggest wish when I was younger was to have mentors that had been through it before and could help me. We’re now at a point in U.S. Soccer where we have enough people who have been through it and made all the mistakes. Now those people can reach out and help our younger players.
When I was 16 and went to Germany, I thought I was going to be the best player ever. Nobody stopped and reminded me that there are a thousand other kids just like me that are playing at the club. I had nobody telling me that. I have the ability to now tell all these kids how the world works and to give them advice that I never had.
That for me is really valuable information that I can pass on.
Diane Scavuzzo: You told me once that it is harder to become a pro today than when you were younger. Do you still believe that is true?
Landon Donovan: Well, it’s more competitive now. When I was younger, if you were relatively talented and could compete at that level then you were going to be seen. Nowadays if I watch an U12 game, these kids are 500% better than I was at that age.
It makes me really optimistic. I’m really glad I was born when I was.
Diane Scavuzzo: Looking to five years in the future – MLS team with a great academy. Do you think you can develop some players that can bring home the world cup?
Landon Donovan: I would like to think so.
About 98% of players coming through all MLS academy will not be playing for our men’s or women’s national team, but they have every opportunity to be special in this community and do something positive with their lives and that’s the goal.
With Donovan’s legendary accomplishments in U.S. Soccer, how could MLS deny him the franchise? But there is a lot to do to make this dream a reality. Help bring MLS to San Diego – sign the petition! #MLSinSD
Nick Stone, a partner with FS Investors, goal is to deliver 100,000+ registered San Diego city voters’ signatures by early-July. More information – visit SoccerCity SD.