Which Professional League Best Fit for the Inland Empire? 2023 Update  

It has been three years since this post, and a lot has changed in the soccer landscape and my perspective of the reality of pro ball in the IE. Here are some updates to the talking points and my comments after COVID. I highly encouraged you to look at part 1 for more context before moving on if you haven’t already.


Land and infrastructure for a Riverside team would likely be at Silverlakes due to its size and space to be the first venue for a team in NISA or USL 1. According to their website, there are plans for a 5k-seat stadium (presumably like the championship stadium at the great park in Irvine) and an indoor soccer facility where the team would be a tenet. UCR is another option; however, colleges tend to be more pricey, and parking is not free. 


I am still awaiting word from USL HQ about new franchise fees/requirements for expansion. Still, I remember scrolling through social media a while back, saying the costs/requirements have increased (naturally, with time, everything does). Since my original post, no new movements have happened with that Roma-riverside plan. The significant changes since then to the league would be the new teams in the western conference. Central Valley Fuego sprouted up during COVID and played in Frenso, and two future expansions are listed on the USL 1 website to ease traveling; a 2024 expansion in Santa Baraba and Spokane, Washington. These expansions would reduce the travel costs for a future IE professional team.

In a related development, the USL 2 side Redlands FC recently established the first USL presence in the Inland Empire. While the league is not professional, and to my knowledge, there has not been a USL 2 team that got “promoted” to the upper divisions based on their success in USL 2. One can interpret successful USL 2 franchises as indirect incubators of the team’s market. So if this was the case, RFC’s first season on the field was beyond expectations as they placed first in the Southwest and got eliminated in the national round of 32. RFC excelled in sponsors, marketing, in-game food booths, and merchandise off the field. For fans attendance, according to RFC co-founder Ryan Whiley, the team averaged 900 fans per game, with the highest attended being 1,200 and the lowest being 700. It’s certainly a case study for the higher staff of USL if they see expansion in the IE.


Much like USL, I got no new information about the expansion requirements for a new professional team. The league has been getting the worst publicity for a while, with clubs folding or merging and dropping in relevance online. The organization, however, has done lots of groundwork in their non-professional incubators teams and leagues called Nisa Nation. Nisa Nation has been expanding and picking up the overall brand image of NISA, like the SWPL. It’s another platform like USL to case study amateur teams in the region to see who can climb to the professional ranks.

One IE case study in the NISA nation realm is Temecula FC. One of the oldest, in fact, just celebrated its 10th anniversary, has done a lot since transitioning out of NPSL. On the field, they have improved their talent pool, with this season being their best in club history and notable results like splitting points with FC Golden State in the SWPL. Off the field, the club still runs its clubhouse in old town Temecula, started a Wefunder with funds (as of August 7th) at $66,539, and remains consistent in social media and fan following. This case study (as opposed to RFC) will rely more on TFC’s executive decision to move up in the NISA professional ranks. They have the autonomy to make that decision but are independent enough that the league won’t be able to support them off the field compared to USL.

On the professional level, NISA has 3 California sides (LA Force & Albion San Diego) with Cal United Strikers not playing this season, and their return is less likely. Two SoCal expansions are listed on their website, coming soon with Calabasas FC and Irvine Zeta FC that would give TFC or another future NISA IE team local professional competition.

Other Comments 

With talks about the location around Riverside, current and future mass transportation around the IE has improved travel around the region. To add more to the Redlands case study, the Arrow train line that opened less than a year ago has a station near RHS where RFC played their home games. Ironically when using the arrow line to a match, my train ran out of juice and used an Uber to make the game; nonetheless, the option remains there, and I used it when I worked at the Redlands school district.

San Berardino airport now serves commercial flights with Breeze Airlines with destinations in San Francisco, Las Vegas, Provo, and Hartford. These cities don’t have NISA or USL 1 teams, but Breeze Airlines will have more flight options connecting to possible future teams. With this airport open, the Inland Empire has two airports to serve the region.

With the 2028 Olympics in LA coming, future transportation plans will bring high-speed rail to Rancho Cucamonga with Brightlines train from RC to Las Vegas via the high desert. No plans or news of professional teams in the area, but it gives the IE more transportation options for leagues and investors when researching expansion.

So what do you think? What else is a factor of professional soccer in the IE? Would we ever see it happen?

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