San Francisco Deltas and the History of Soccer in San Francisco

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With the San Francisco Parks and Rec department approving a potential NASL franchise’s request to play at Kezar Stadium, the San Francisco Deltas are a step closer to reality. The Deltas will join an ensemble of professional soccer teams that have called the city home.

San Francisco Deltas and the History of Soccer in San Francisco

The first pro soccer team and only first division team to call San Francisco home were the United Soccer Association’s San Francisco Golden Gate Gales. The Golden Gate Gales were founded by George C. Felharty, who also owned the Western Hockey League’s San Francisco Seals. The team was coached by Ernst Happel during their first season and called Kezar Stadium home.

San Francisco imported their team from Dutch side ADO Den Häag for 1967 and featured the likes of Harry Heijnen, Henk Houwaart, Aad Mansveld, Lex Schoenmaker, and Dick Advocaat. The Gales started the season with a 6-1 win against the Vancouver Royals in front of 8,177 spectators at home with two goals coming from Ted Howaart and a hat trick from Lambert Maassen. The team ended the season second in the western conference with five wins, four losses, and three ties.

In May, the Gales signed Real Madrid legend Ferenc Puskas to a three-year contract to coach the Gales. Nevertheless, the United Soccer Association merged with the National Professional Soccer League to form the North American Soccer League before the 1968 season and the Gales folded to make way for the NPSL champions Oakland Clippers.

After the Gales folded, Felharty bought the Vancouver Royals and brought Puskas along with him. After Oakland withdrew from the NASL before the 1969 season, the Clippers played multiple friendlies in San Francisco under the California Clippers moniker including a 3-2 loss to Ukrainian giants Dynamo Kiev. In June 1969, the Clippers folded, citing lack of fan support and staggering losses.

Prior to the 1980-81 Major Indoor Soccer League season, David Schoenstadt relocated the Detroit Lightning to San Francisco. The San Francisco Fog would end the season last in the entire league with 11 wins and 29 losses and drew the league worst average attendance of 2,500 spectators per game. After the season, the Fog relocated again to Kansas City.

In 1992, the San Francisco United All-Blacks joined the third division United States Interregional Soccer League and began play at Negoesco Stadium. In 1996, San Francisco United rebranded as San Francisco Bay Seals. In 1997, the Seals reached the semifinal of the US Open Cup defeating the Seattle Sounders, Kansas City Wiz, and the San Jose Earthquakes along the way. Ultimately, the Seals would lose the semifinal 2-1 to DC United in at the University of the Pacific football stadium in Stockton. DC would go on to lose to the Dallas Burn in the final. After their astonishing cup run, the Seals moved up to the second division A-League and relocated to the larger Kezar Stadium for the 1998 season. After the ’99 season, however, the Seals relocated to Hayward and would fold after the 2000 season.

In September 1996, in order to provide more revenue and ease the financial costs for a new San Francisco 49ers stadium, Mayor Willie Brown began courting Major League Soccer’s San Jose Clash into relocating to San Francisco. Ultimately his plans fell through and the Clash stayed in San Jose. On October 27th, 1999, the Clash rebranded as the San Jose Earthquakes. The Quakes would play nine home games in San Francisco including two in the MLS season, three in the US Open Cup, and four friendlies.

On October 12, 2006, the United Soccer Leagues announced then chairman of Deportivo Alaves, Dmitry Piterman had acquired a USL First Division franchise in San Francisco to begin play in 2007. Like the Gales, the atrociously named California Victory took the field at Kezar for merely a season before folding to make way for the MLS’s San Jose Earthquakes. Notable Victory players include current Sacramento Republic goalkeeper Dominik Jakubek, former Seattle Sounders and Chicago Fire defender Patrick Ianni, and former Portland Timbers and San Jose Earthquakes reserves forward Yuri Morales.

Although soccer in the past lacked favorable outcomes, it’s still premature to predict the end result of the Deltas. The soccer landscape and the landscape of San Francisco have both been altered completely since the Victory and Seals wandered around Kezar. The Deltas still have to be organized with a full roster of players, a brand that signifies San Francisco, and a television deal (preferably with CSN or CHN). Only time will tell if the team legitimately prospers.