San Diego awarded NWSL expansion franchise; ex-USWNT boss Jill Ellis named president

The National Women's Soccer League announced San Diego as its latest expansion team, with former U.S. women's national team manager Jill Ellis named as president.

The team is owned by Ron Burkle, who counts the NHL's Pittsburgh Penguins among his holdings, and he has named longtime business associate Matt Alvarez to run the team on his behalf. San Diego will begin play alongside fellow expansion team Angel City FC in the spring of 2022. The San Diego Union-Tribune reported that the team will play its games at Torero Stadium on the campus of the University of San Diego.

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"On behalf of the NWSL and our board of governors, I'm thrilled to welcome San Diego NWSL to our league," said NWSL Commissioner Lisa Baird. "The NWSL's growth is obviously a priority for us, but we've always said that growth has to be done thoughtfully and deliberately. That's exactly what we've done here. San Diego NWSL has all the hallmarks of a successful expansion club: a committed ownership group with the resources required to invest in the success of our league and our players, in a community full of soccer players and fans, in a region that has been underrepresented in our league. I can't wait to watch it all come together."

The hiring of Ellis amounts to a coup for the expansion side given her long history in the women's game, primarily as a coach. Ellis has been courted by several organizations since stepping down following the U.S. team's second consecutive World Cup triumph in 2019, but now she has the opportunity to build a soccer organization from the ground up.

"This is a proud and historic moment for soccer in San Diego, Southern California and the United States," said Ellis. "The NWSL continues to grow immensely and bringing women's professional soccer back to San Diego, an area with a rich soccer history and passionate fanbase, will have a deep and positive impact on this community. I'm incredibly honored to lead this club forward as we prepare for play in this league next year. We aim to become a significant team globally, led by influential women, with the ability to attract the best talent throughout the world. I am eager to begin this project and look forward to leading this club as we build towards the future."

The addition of San Diego completes what had been a winding road in terms of the league's latest expansion side. The league announced back in January that the team would be based in Sacramento, but those plans changed when Burkle opted not to move forward with a project to own an MLS expansion in that same city. San Diego, where Burkle owns a home, then emerged as an alternative.

"San Diego is filled with an unwavering and fervent fanbase with a wide interest in soccer," said Burkle. "We are thrilled to bring women's professional soccer to San Diego and believe this club will be deeply embedded in this community. We believe in Jill and will provide the necessary investment to build a club that all of San Diego will be proud to support. Jill's expertise and history within the sport is unrivalled and we are incredibly excited to continue to work with commissioner Baird to bring a world-class team to San Diego as we continue to grow the sport and women's soccer."

San Diego has some history with women's soccer. It was home to the San Diego Spirit, which played in the Women's United Soccer Association from 2001 until the league folded after the 2003 campaign. It counted U.S. women's national team legends Julie Foudy, Joy Fawcett and Shannon MacMillan among its players. With the NWSL now in its ninth season, and on firmer financial footing, it will give women's soccer another try.