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Technically speaking, 1904 FC did not join the 80 percent of second- and third-division pro soccer teams in the United States that have folded in the past 25 years, including nearly a dozen in San Diego.
But the name, the brand, the logo, the crest? They’re 08-09-19-20-15-18-25.
The franchise named for SD’s position in the alphabet — S is the 19th letter, D is the fourth — has merged with Albion San Diego, a local youth soccer club that has had designs on adding a fully professional team as the apex of its organizational pyramid.
The new board will be split between 1904 FC and Albion officers, and the team will assume 1904 FC’s spot in the third-tier National Independent Soccer Association when the 2022 season begins in March. But it will be rebranded as Albion San Diego, and the 1904 FC twitter account and website already have been replaced.
“It sort of became the definition of insanity,” said Paul Redfern, an accountant from Encinitas and co-owner of 1904 FC. “You can’t keep just continuing down the same path, pumping money into this independent soccer club with no affiliation to the youth or the larger San Diego area, and expect different results.”
The club arrived in San Diego in the summer of 2017 with great fanfare, backed by Senegalese star striker Demba Ba as the majority owner with plans to play in the North American Soccer League and build a 10,000-seat modular stadium in Oceanside. His investment partners were also European pros, most notably Real Madrid midfielder Eden Hazard.
“There is no room for failure for us,” Ba told the Union-Tribune in 2017 when asked what separates his venture from other San Diego pro soccer teams that folded. “We cannot let that happen. We have to look at what people have done and why they have failed, so we don’t make the same mistakes.”
The NASL collapsed before 1904 FC could play its first game. The next option was the second-division United Soccer League, only for negotiations to fall apart. The club finally settled on NISA, a start-up league, and played its inaugural game on Sept. 14, 2019, before a couple thousand fans in 70,000-seat Qualcomm Stadium.
It has bounced around the county since, most recently at Canyon Crest Academy in Carmel Valley. Ba and his European partners backed away last summer (Redfern says they’re still “minority” investors), and the team needed assistance from NISA to survive the fall season. Under coach Scott Morrison, 1904 FC went 2-13-3 and finished last in the 10-team league.
Its final game was a 4-0 loss against New Amsterdam FC in Uniondale, N.Y., on Nov. 21.
A home venue and new head coach are expected to be announced next month. Canyon Crest Academy remains an option, as does the Chula Vista Elite Athlete Training Center. Previous Albion teams have played at Mission Bay High.
The interesting part about the merger is the two entities weren’t exactly chummy to begin. Rushing to fill the roster for its first season, 1904 FC raided Albion’s team from the fourth-tier National Premier Soccer League — acquiring six starters and several other players. Albion objected and threatened legal action, and 1904 FC later paid transfer fees for them.
Relations smoothed after 1904 FC hired Ziggy Korytoski, the former head coach of Albion’s NPSL team, as an advisor.
“Through those conversations,” Redfern said, “we saw there was a lot of alignment with what they were trying to do, what they have done in the past and what they wanted to do moving forward. It would have been great to see everything go to plan from the outset (with 1904 FC), but so much has changed in the last 22 months, not only in soccer but in our community and our country and the world.
“We’re all finding different ways to proceed and get business done. Ultimately, I’m happy that we found something that I think will create momentum and longevity for the project.”
Something else has changed: The San Diego soccer market is considerably more crowded than when 1904 FC launched. The San Diego Loyal are entering their third season in USL, and the San Diego Wave FC is scheduled to start in March in the National Women’s Soccer League with Alex Morgan and other U.S. national team stars. The indoor San Diego Sockers also are still around. There are also now pro rugby and indoor lacrosse teams competing for disposable income.
For Albion, it is the final piece of a vision that integrates the club from juniors through youth through pro soccer.
“Albion has been a major part of the soccer community in San Diego for more than 40 years,” club CEO Noah Gins said in a statement. “By completing the professional pyramid, we are positioned to play an even larger role in the development of our players and help them achieve greater success in the global system.”
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