In one of the more well-known West Coast markets lies a budding PDL franchise that is doing all the right things on and off the field.
Despite being less than three years old as a club, San Diego Zest FC continues to make positive strides as they aim to help further the development of Japanese-American players in a unique soccer culture.
In addition to their mission of aiding Japanese talents, San Diego has established a women's professional team, as well as a working relationship with MLS club LA Galaxy.
San Diego Zest FC owner Chase Yamauchi spoke with USLPDL.com about his ambitions for the club, their mission to develop Japanese-American players and San Diego's relationship with the LA Galaxy.
Owner - San Diego Zest FC
PDL: What is the main mission of the San Diego Zest and how does the PDL help fulfill this?
Chase Yamauchi: San Diego Zest FC is the only Japanese-owned club in the USL hierarchy, and our mission is to provide Japanese players with a valuable experience and a big dream through one of the best development leaders in North American soccer. There are so many people in Japan who would like to make their dream come true in the United States and that's the reason why we are exist.
San Diego Zest FC is also here to connect American players to the world. We have an ownership of a third-division side in Montenegro "FK ADRIA" which has strong connections to top Europe leagues. We had one Japanese player named Kohei Kato who used to play in Montenegro under our partner and he's called up to Japan's national team in 2017 and 2018 after he spent a few seasons over there. Not only in Europe, but we are connected to both J-League clubs and K-League clubs as you might know our head coach is from South Korea. Using these connections, we would like to support American players to grasp their chances in the world. These are missions that we have to persist in PDL (becoming USL League Two), and hopefully the league would push their marketing to the world too.
PDL: On November 17th, the San Diego Zest partnered with the LA Galaxy of Major League Soccer. Can you describe what that partnership entails and how zest players benefit from this?
CY: This is actually a partnership between San Diego Zest FC and LA Galaxy San Diego which is affiliated with LA Galaxy. We received permission from the Galaxy to use their logo, but we tend to work more directly with LA Galaxy San Diego. Because of this partnership, we have around 5,000 kids and their parents as our fans and received access to their turf fields. Additionally, this partnership enabled us to get free gear from Adidas, which is great for our players and staff. Both on and off the pitch, the partnership with LA Galaxy San Diego brought us and our players enough benefits to achieve our goal.
PDL: It looks like a major pillar of the San Diego Zest is to provide a platform for Japanese players to come to the States and showcase their talents, what does this mean to the Zest?
CY: As I mentioned above, Zest has gotten so many dreams and hopes from people in Japan. We have a huge following back in Japan. It was a huge step for us to be in part of USL family in 2015 as we were the first club from Japan. Even J-League clubs have never challenged to explore the U.S. Soccer as its high standard. However, as we were located in San Diego, we were aware of its big possibilities and could envision the future to be as what it is now. In order for Japanese organizations to explore the U.S. Soccer market, we at San Diego Zest FC, have to survive in the USL League Two, as a first priority, and build a solid organization which has enough power to make a huge wave. We have told so many people in Japan that soccer in the U.S. is going to be one of the biggest and valuable leagues in the world in the near future. We believe our success in this league would be a big help to the Japan Football Association in their goals of expanding to America.
PDL: The Southwest division is full of highly competitive PDL teams, what were your expectations for year and years to come on the field?
CY: We always expect to play against strong teams in the Southwest division and that's what we've always had in the past three years. These experiences would help us figure out what we would need to be a "Path2Pro" for players. Most of teams in our division have better squads and understandings of how the organization needs to be and that's what we've been always learning from them. We would like to increase the quality of our division more and more cooperating with one of the best opponents in the league.