The Embodiment of San Diego Soccer

Dorrell playing soccer. Photo Courtesy of Ethan Dorrell.

It’s a Sunday afternoon. Clear skies, pleasant weather and an open soccer field. 

He starts to lace up his Adidas Samba indoor soccer shoes. Typically he would wear cleats for better traction, but those aren’t allowed in the intramural league. 

Today’s game is against the Goal Diggers, a team that had to forfeit their first match of the season, so his team doesn’t know what to expect. 

The mornings are often for his local Sunday league that he plays in with his dad. Sunday nights are for the College Avenue Church night service. But the afternoons are for intramurals. 

He is Ethan Dorrell, a second-year kinesiology major at Point Loma Nazarene University. For much of his life, Dorrell lived and breathed soccer. He still does, to an extent. He now plays for the OG Ball Busters, his PLNU intramural team. Dorrell has spent his entire life in the San Diego area and has been about as active in the soccer community as one can be. 

His career started about 16 years ago at the Toby Wells YMCA in Kearny Mesa, located only 20 minutes away from PLNU’s campus. Dorrell enjoyed playing soccer as soon as he started at age 4 and quickly ascended the ranks, playing club soccer for a mere three years. He may have been a little too good for YMCA ball. 

“I began playing club soccer around age 7 when the YMCA started recommending me to clubs because it was a little unfair and the other teams’ parents didn’t like playing against us,” Dorrell said. 

He made the jump in competitiveness as he went from the YMCA league to Albion, a premiere club whose U14 (under age 14) team ranked 20th in the nation as recently as September 2023. According to Dorrell, his specific Albion team was a borderline top-five team in the nation for its age group. He played for the club from the age of 7 to 14, in which the competition only grew stronger as he got older. 

It was in the middle of his tenure with Albion that Dorrell truly fell in love with the game and wanted to pursue it professionally. A trip to Premier League club Arsenal’s youth academy made him think it was a serious career route. Arsenal flew out a handful of talented American players to England for some practice at their academy. 

 “Puma sent us huge boxes of free cleats and clothing for the trip and all the facilities at Arsenal were extremely fancy. In some of the buildings, we had to step into these machines that would put a plastic wrap around your shoes before entering,” Dorrell said. “That was when I thought soccer might be a potential career path.” 

Dorrell’s interest in the game has transcended his play on the field. Much of his appreciation for the sport comes from his father; he inherited his dad’s love for Liverpool FC of the English Premier League. Dorrell started following the club not long after he started playing. However, pickings have been slim in regard to local professional teams to root for. 

He’s been a fan of the San Diego Sockers since their return in 2009. The Sockers were originally founded in 1978 and lasted 18 years before dissolving in 1996. They came back in 2001 but quickly folded three years later in 2004. Since they came back in 2009, they have remained a part of the Major Arena Soccer League. 

“I have been a long-time fan of the San Diego Sockers since I was five and personally know some of the players,” Dorrell said. 

The Sockers still hold the record for the longest win streak of a professional soccer team at 48 consecutive wins. 

But it wasn’t until the San Diego Loyal came about that Dorrell’s involvement in the San Diego professional soccer community ramped up. The Loyal formed when he was 15 years old and quickly became the most prevalent soccer team in San Diego, as it was the only outdoor professional team in the city. They played in the United Soccer League. 

“I missed the first whole season of the Loyal because I was working at Rubio’s so much, but became very invested in them after I was finally able to make it to a game and made it to as many as possible after that,” Dorrell said. 

Though the Loyal games were fun, San Diego still lacked the pop of a Major League Soccer team, a member of the best professional league in the country. It was around the time the Loyal was formed, which coincided with the summer after his freshman year of high school, that Dorrell felt that professional soccer may not be fit for him. 

Between the ages of 14 and 18, he suffered three broken toes, a broken ulna, radius and clavicle, as well as a few broken bones in the face and eye socket to go along with a couple of muscular injuries. 

“I wouldn’t have played high school soccer at all because it’s not worth risking an injury,” Dorrell said. “But by that point I was definitely being caught up to and passed by other talented players around the country and I kind of knew a career in soccer was slipping away.” 

Since he stopped playing competitive soccer, Dorrell has had to find various ways to fill the void of playing, as he occasionally gets “depressing levels of nostalgia” when he is reminded of his career.

“It would be impossible to quit the sport altogether, though,” Dorrell said. “I play a lot of pickup games, futsal and watch the Premier League when I can.” 

He didn’t mention attending San Diego Loyal games because the club was never able to find a home stadium to consistently play in and had to disband. But it was announced in May of 2023 that San Diego will be the home of a new MLS expansion team, San Diego FC. 

The team will have its inaugural season in 2025 and they’ll be playing in Snapdragon Stadium, the home football stadium for the San Diego State Aztecs. Dorrell is excited at the prospect of having a better professional team to root for in the area. 

He’s previously rooted for Los Angeles FC but only because it’s the closest to home and had exciting players like Gareth Bale and Carlos Vela. But he is a tad skeptical about the future of the club, as professional soccer hasn’t necessarily thrived in San Diego. 

“I think that they will be successful in the short term, first three years or so, because the MLS does a lot to help boost new teams, but only time will tell if they can establish themselves as a formidable team in the long run,” Dorrell said. 

There was about a minute left, with the OG Ball Busters ahead of the Goal Diggers by a score of 3-2. Ethan hadn’t scored in the game but his presence was felt. He played more defensively than he typically would; some teammates couldn’t make it to the game that day. He hounded the opposing team’s striker and forwards all day, making their lives hell and hardly ever allowing them to get to the goalie’s box. His club days may be over, but he really wants to win. 

An opposing forward pushed the ball up the field with only Dorrell there to stop her. A fellow Goal Digger was starting to push from the other side. The forward wanted to get the ball to her teammate but Dorrell saw it coming from a mile away. He simply got down to a knee to stop the pass and prevent a possible game-tying goal. OG Ball Busters win. 

I was stunned by Dorrell’s soccer IQ and the smoothness he played with. He could see the field better than anybody else in that game. Does he still love soccer the way he used to?

“Absolutely, I will never not love soccer.”