SD Loyal continues with postseason aspirations
By Hector Trujillo
With its rookie season in the books, San Diego Loyal has turned its sophomore season in the USL Championship into quite an adventure with more twists and turns than a Spanish-language telenovela.
The team, coached by soccer legend Landon Donovan, started the season with four straight losses, some in heartbreaking fashion and all on the road. They followed that up with a nine-game undefeated streak in which the team got back in the playoff race, and Donovan earned coach of the month honors. The unbeaten streak would come to an unfortunately end on July 24 in their fourth and final head to head match with division rival and defending Western Conference champion Phoenix Rising by a score of 1-0.
“That was a really high level USL game,” Donovan said. “I think both teams were very good on the day in different ways. I thought we were very good with the ball and Phoenix was very good defensively. They are hard to beat when they play that way defensively.”
By that point, San Diego Loyal was without the services of arguably their most talented player, Miguel Berry. The Poway High School and University of San Diego graduate was on loan with SD Loyal and had been called back two weeks earlier by Columbus Crew to help the reigning Major League Soccer champions defend their title. Despite being in what is considered the group of death, the team from San Diego still seems to be in a good position to make the playoffs with the top four in the division advancing to the postseason.
The high point so far in 2021 came on June 19th when they defeated Phoenix Rising by a score of 2-1 at home in front of a packed Torero Stadium crowd thanks to two absolute golazos from midfielder Jack Blake who recently signed a two-year contract extension with the team.
The low point came on Aug. 7 when the team lost at home to Real Monarchs, a team that had not won a road game all season. The 0-1 score came about after San Diego Loyal gave up a goal less than a minute into the match.
However, if the team does make the postseason, the match that they will look back to will be the one against Orange County SC on July 14 in which they were trailing and were a man down in the second half, but came back to win thanks to two late goals from defender Callum Montgomery and midfielder Tumi Moshobane.
“The reaction is what matters,” Donovan said. “We want to be the best. I love the spirit on the team, on the sidelines, guys who get subbed out are just as into the game as when they are on the field.”
To help with the playoff push during the final stretch of the regular season, San Diego Loyal has added the services of defender Oliver Larraz and striker Douglas Martinez, both on loan from Major League Soccer teams.
Larraz (on loan from Colorado Rapids) recently scored his first goal for San Diego Loyal in the match against Sacramento Republic on August 28 at Torero Stadium. Martinez (on loan from Real Salt Lake) has had a noteworthy career playing both domestically and internationally for the Honduran national team, including competing in the recent Tokyo Olympics. Also, 17-year old sensation CJ Fodrey, who recently committed to play for San Diego State University, is expected to be the X-factor and an important variable for Landon Donovan’s offense.