During the Robin Fraser era at Chivas USA, there were a few disputes over Academy players with Real Salt Lake, with Fraser and former Chivas assistant coach Greg Vanney working at RSL prior to coming to the Goats. In particular, both clubs had eyes on signing forward Ben Spencer as a Homegrown player, but in the end that player went to Norway and signed with Molde.
The latest step in the battle over young talent in Southern California may be upon us, as The San Diego Union-Tribune reported yesterday that RSL is looking to take over a site in Oceanside to build a minor-league soccer stadium and complex of fields. Edward Sifuentes reports that the city-owned golf course would be pared down to a nine-hole course, and Dell Loy Hansen, owner of RSL, would lease the rest of the land, as a way for the city to make money off the project.
Oceanside is a city on the Northwestern edge of San Diego County. Hansen lives there, and there have been previous rumors RSL were planning to start a USL PRO affiliate in the San Diego area. Matt Montgomery notes at RSL Soapbox, however, that the Academy proposal is new to the story.
Though it initially seems unfair that RSL may be allowed to set up an Academy in Southern California, from the regulations I'm aware of, it appears it would be permissible. RSL is the only MLS Academy whose primary set-up is remote, as they have a residency program in Casa Grande, Arizona (the Vancouver Whitecaps also have a residency program, but they aren't located in a separate province from the main team).
Perhaps more to the point, the general rule is that MLS Academies have exclusive claim to players within 50 miles. I'm not sure if Chivas USA and the LA Galaxy's 50 mile radius begins from Carson or the city of Los Angeles proper, but if we take Carson as the site, which is closer to San Diego County, Oceanside is a hair over 75 miles away, which would mean that if U.S. Soccer and MLS approved of the Academy, RSL could claim MLS rights to players in San Diego County and the Southern part of Orange County.
It is worth noting that the theoretical goal of MLS in granting expanded areas to certain clubs' Academies is to give all teams an approximate numerical balance of potential players. As a point of comparison, Los Angeles County has more than 9.8 million residents, while Salt Lake County, where RSL is located, has a population that is just over 1 million. San Diego County's population is just over 3 million.
Chivas USA and the LA Galaxy have had turf wars of their own regarding youth players and Academy matters, and with them residing in the same place, that's sure to continue. But with RSL looking to move in on San Diego, competition for youth players in an area previously regarded as the LA clubs' by default may no longer be the case.
Update, March 20: The Oceanside City Council decided to end negotiations with Hansen over the "soccer mecca" proposal at the site discussed this week, as residents and golfers spoke up at a meeting to reject the proposal, the San Diego Union-Tribune reports. Perhaps ironically for our considerations, "Save the Goat!" was a rallying cry for those opposed to the project, though the Goat they are referring to is the informal name of the area, Goat Hill, not our beloved Chivas USA.
Despite the setback, I think this project is by no means dead. I expect Hansen to continue looking for a site to build the USL PRO stadium and Academy complex, perhaps in Oceanside, perhaps in another part of San Diego County. We will update the story as necessary, and urge you to check out the coverage on SB Nation's Real Salt Lake blog RSL Soapbox, as they've been following the story closely.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!