CARLSBAD – Carlsbad is touting its hometown soccer hero, Eric Humberto Avila. The 32-year-old native will celebrate his soccer debut as a San Diego Loyal — San Diego’s first professional soccer team with the USL Championship, a United States Soccer Federation-sanctioned Division II League.
The USL Championship is composed of 30 clubs across the U.S. and Canada and has an audience of 84 million viewers. San Diego Loyal is the league’s newest addition to its North American roster. The club is led by Chairman Andrew Vassiliadis, the youngest principal USL Championship owner.
Avila and his teammates were handpicked by Landon Donovan, a former elite professional soccer player now serving as the executive vice president of soccer operations and the team manager of the San Diego Loyal Soccer Club.
Donovan and Avila had crossed playing paths before, competing on opposing teams where Donovan took note of Avila’s leadership qualities on and off the field.
“Signing Eric was a no-brainer,” he said. “We identified Eric as a great addition to our team. Eric demonstrates our commitment to being loyal to our soil.”
Avila accepted the invitation not only as an “easy way to bring me home,” but to play for Donovan, whom he called one of the most elite soccer players in America.
“Players like myself have a lot to live up to,” he said. “The first year’s a big year and all eyes are on this team.”
Born and raised in San Diego, Avila’s soccer career proved promising by age 8. Showcasing his value as a San Diego Crusader (American Youth Soccer Team), he then joined the La Jolla nomads, a competitive traveling soccer team.
Avila said he recognized that he loved soccer more than the other kids and that he was better than most of the other kids.
“I’ve loved playing soccer for as long as I can remember,” he said. “I would play on the sidelines while watching my father play games every Sunday in Tijuana.
“I hate running,” he said. “But if there’s a soccer ball out in a soccer field, I’ll go run.”
Avila played for La Costa Canyon High School for a year before relocating to Florida to play for the U.S. National Team. As he continued to shine, the teen toyed between “going pro or going to college.” The talent chose the school.
At University of California at Santa Barbara Avila won the title of Freshman of the Year. As a sophomore, the midfielder scored the game-winning goal for the Gauchos at the NSA Championships, giving the collegiate team their first-ever national title.
With a stellar college record, a professional career was inevitable. Teams called and Avila answered. He played Major League Soccer player for nine years in Dallas, Toronto, South Carolina and Alabama before receiving the life-changing phone call from Donovan.
“I’m living my dream come true,” he said. “Playing for the San Diego Loyal Club is surreal. I’m lucky to be to a part of something special and to share my story with kids, one that will hopefully give them a path for doing what they love.”
“Soccer is the world’s game,” Donovan said. “More people watch and play soccer in San Diego than any other city in America. We see this as an incredible opportunity.”
Donovan noted that while San Diego’s was the last major market to host a professional soccer team, the new addition will fill a void left by the departure of the San Diego Chargers football team.
“The Chargers not only left a massive void in San Diego, they left a hole in people’s hearts,” Donovan said. “We’re here to fill that hole with a team that’s here to stay. We chose the name San Diego Loyal because our fans demanded that we’d stay true to San Diego and never leave.”
Donovan and Avila both agreed that spectators will be “blown away,” by the vibe of their venue — the University of San Diego’s Torero Stadium — as well as the team’s pep rally club.
“Torero Stadium is an incredible venue with unparalleled sightlines in close proximity to the field, making it breathtaking to watch the action,” said Donovan. “And the energy and passion provided by our supporter’s club, The Locals, will give people a remarkable experience.”
“The games will be super exciting,’ Avila said. “Everyone will feel the vibration from the cheering and chanting. With all of the soccer players in San Diego, I think it’s really important to support your local and brand-new team.”
Donovan plans to positively impact and inspire lives through soccer.
“We take this mission seriously and look forward to the smiles of San Diegans across our great region,” he said.
“I’m proud to be part of something special” Avila said. “I feel so connected to San Diego — it’s home.”
The San Diego Loyal Soccer Team will play 17 home matches at USD’s Torero Stadium beginning on March 7 against the Las Vegas Lights.
Co-Founder Warren Smith said he is counting the days until March 7 to welcome fans to what he said will be an incredible season that will bring smiles, chants and cheers from everyone.