Orange County’s highest profile soccer team could be pushed out of their home stadium in Irvine to make room for the LA Galaxy’s reserve team, setting off a tense debate between the two teams over who gets the best soccer field in the county.
The Orange County Soccer Club has called the Irvine Great Park’s Championship Soccer Stadium home for the last five years, the longest they’ve held onto any home stadium, which they lease from the city.
Before that, the team bounced around several homes throughout Southern California, including UC Irvine and Cal State Fullerton facilities, with home games regularly moving to different stadiums mid-season due to scheduling conflicts.
“There was a lot of scheduling conflict,” said Blaine Jenks, founder of the County Line Coalition, the team’s official fan club. “We even played games out in Corona, which makes it hard as a club to grow when you’re bouncing around all the time.”
But ever since they signed a contract with the city for the Championship Stadium, that hasn’t been a problem. With all their home games played there every season, while other smaller professional teams and a few community groups also have used the field in the off time.
However, the LA Galaxy want the field for their reserve team, dubbed LA Galaxy II.
Team officials reached out to city leaders about potentially moving the team onto the field when the Orange County club’s contract is up this November.
Both teams currently play in the United Soccer League, which has been publicly mute on the stadium issue.
According to a report prepared by Irvine city staff, the current teams use the field 40 days a year, while the partnership with LA Galaxy would see the field used 18 days a year, leaving over 100 days open for community groups compared to 80 days under the current model.
OC Soccer fans publicly pressed their city leaders this month, demanding their team remain at the stadium.
Just under thirty people spoke at the council’s August 6 meeting, telling them to not kick out the Orange County Soccer Club, while dozens more in the crowd cheered them on and nearly 100 people sent in written comments asking for the club to stay put.
“I am saddened to be here…We love Irvine,” said James Keston, the team’s owner who spoke at the meeting. “We cannot even get the city to sit down with us to discuss a long term stadium deal to keep us in Irvine.”
On the team’s website, Keston called the effort by Galaxy to move into Championship Soccer Stadium an “attack,” claiming the city has ignored their proposals to renew or change the existing agreement over the past four years.
“Our club, built in Irvine and 100% Orange County proud, came under attack,” Keston wrote.
“The LA Galaxy have worked behind closed doors to convince City Staff to put up an option in the Irvine City Council on Tuesday to throw OCSC out of Championship Soccer Stadium,” he added.
“We cannot let our home be taken away from this soccer club and this community.”
For now, none of the teams have an answer on who will get the stadium after the city council punted a decision on the issue to a future meeting at the request of city staff.
If the council takes no action on the issue by November, the city’s lease deal with the Orange County Soccer Club will automatically renew for another two years according to the staff report.
In an interview with Voice of OC, Irvine city manager Oliver Chi said that OC Soccer was kept in the loop the whole time, and the city had made it clear to them that Tuesday’s meeting wasn’t a final decision, just the city discussing their options.
“The Orange County Soccer Club made some gross mischaracterizations of the situation,” Chi said. “For the OC Soccer Club to indicate they haven’t been kept in the loop or we were looking to give away their stadium…they know that’s not accurate.”
But in an interview with Voice of OC, OC Soccer leadership said the first they heard about the Galaxy potentially moving into their stadium came at the same time as everyone else did.
“The club have received no formal communication from either the city or the Galaxy. The first we officially kenw of this proposal was the published agenda on Thursday morning,” said Chad Romiti, the team’s PR manager.
LA Galaxy declined Voice of OC’s request for an interview when asked about the move, but provided a statement via email saying they were open to letting other teams use the field.
“LA Galaxy are not interested in an exclusive arrangement…and have advised all parties of our willingness to open conversations with the city of Irvine and other stakeholders on mutually-acceptable arrangements pertaining to the use of the stadium moving forward.”
Under the plans prepared by city staff in the posted agenda, Galaxy would’ve been the only professional team allowed to play at the stadium, and the field can currently only support three days of use per week.
Amidst the discussion on which team gets the stadium, some community members are advocating for a third option: ignore the debate about the teams and replace the field with artificial grass.
According to Chi and Ryan Bertoni, vice chair of the city’s Sports Committee, the city only gets to use the field one third of the year because of how much goes into maintaining the grass, blocking sports like football and lacrosse from being able to participate.
“We have heard a lot of feedback from community based groups that the current operational model, which was built, paid for and managed by Irvine taxpayer dollars, has Irvine based groups struggling to access the facility because we prioritize professional groups,” Chi said.
Bertoni pointed to the six high schools in the city and to other groups in the surrounding area who would love to use the field, asking why they were maintaining the grass when it kept them off the field a majority of the year and banned sports like football and lacrosse from using it.
“While grass is a phenomenal idea and we’d all love to play football on grass, it’s not feasible to have a grass stadium,” Bertoni said in an interview with Voice of OC. “I know the soccer groups like to play on grass, but…it’s not like the soccer groups can’t play on there.”
The United Soccer League allows teams to use artificial fields if they’re FIFA approved, and has a partnership with AstroTurf according to their website.
If the field were replaced, city staff say the annual maintenance costs would drop from around $500,000-$700,000 a year to $7,500.
Artificial turf would also open up the field for the entire year and allow more than three games per week, and increase the total number of hours people could use it because it suffers less wear and tear than ordinary grass.
In a letter posted to the team’s website, Keston, the OC Soccer Club’s owner, said the team was “not opposed,” to playing on turf and that discussion had “no bearing,” on the current issue.
LA Galaxy hasn’t stated one way or the other whether they’d still want the field if it was converted to turf.
Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC Reporter. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @NBiesiada.
Start each day informed with our free email newsletter.
And since you’ve made it this far,
You are obviously connected to your community and value good journalism. As an independent and local nonprofit, our news is accessible to all, regardless of what they can afford. Our newsroom centers on Orange County’s civic and cultural life, with no paywalls and no popups. Our reporters hold powerful interests accountable to protect your quality of life. But this work not free. It depends on donors like you.
Join the conversation: In lieu of comments, we encourage readers to engage with us across a variety of mediums. Join our Facebook discussion. Message us via our website or staff page. Send us a secure tip. Share your thoughts in a community opinion piece.