Words By Kyle Westover, Images By Johnnie Crow
San Diego, California (September 30, 2020) – It was the final match of the inaugural season for the San Diego Loyal on Wednesday night, and featured two of the top teams in Group B of the USL Championship regular season.
Going into the game, Phoenix Rising FC were in first place, with a 6-point lead over both the San Diego Loyal and Los Angeles Galaxy II, who were tied for second place. Closing out the season, the Loyal were riding a 6 match unbeaten streak, featuring 3 wins and 3 draws, including a 3-2 victory road victory over the 2019 Western Conference Champion Phoenix Rising 11 days earlier.
Recent changes to the SD Loyal roster including the addition Rubio Rubin had proven to be instrumental to the Loyal unbeaten streak. Rubio’s first half hat trick against Phoenix on September 19th at Casino Arizona Field had raised the question of whether momentum had shifted in the conference right before the playoffs.
Just as in the previous match, the SD Loyal were quickly on the scoreboard by a goal from Miguel Berry in the 2nd minute, capitalizing off of a set piece resulting from a Phoenix Rising foul committed deep in their defensive end. Following the goal, the Loyal remained in control of possession, and extended their lead to 2-0 shortly afterwards on a goal from Rubin in the 20th minute. Rubin’s first goal of the match came from a buildup on the right side touch line and culminated with a pass into Rubin near the top of the box, who then took several dribbles to towards the goal and rocketed a shot from just outside the 18 yard box pass the keeper.
After this second goal, the tone of the match shifted, and the play became more physical. Phoenix Rising FC acquired 2 yellow cards during 5 minutes to Sean Stanton 27th minute, Joey Calistri 28th minute, and SD Loyal Grant Stoneman pick up a yellow card 31st minute. Phoenix got on the board shortly before halftime and cut the deficit to 2-1, from a goal from Sean Stanton in the 45th minute.
The Loyal’s lead of 2-1 over Phoenix existed only for a short time, before Rubin scored his second goal of the half in the extended stoppage time. Rubin’s goal in the 45th +7 minute returned the Loyal’s 2 goal lead to make it 3-1. Rubin’s goal came off a restart and set piece from the top of the box that nicked goal post as it went in. During the kick, both of the Loyal players ducked and created an opening in the defensive wall that Phoenix had set up to defend against the shot. The shot placement tricked Phoenix’s goalie into reacting late, and as a result his hands narrowly missed the ball by only several inches.
Phoenix Rising made one more counter attack in the last minute before halftime, and then disaster struck.
As Phoenix dribbled near SD Loyal box, a foul was committed and was called by the head referee. Both teams began preparations for the impending freekick, but during that time a red card was issued to San Diego Loyal midfielder Collin Martin. Both teams appeared stunned and shocked by what happened, with players on the benches rising from their seats also trying to figure out what occurred could have caused a red card. Shortly thereafter head coach of the San Diego Loyal Landon Donovan was also ejected from the match for intervening in the incident.
It is alleged that a player on Rising FC directed a homophobic slur at one of the SD Loyal players who had come out as gay in 2018. Upon hearing the slur, the Loyal player reacted in a way that the referee deemed merited a red card.
During halftime, head coaches Landon Donovan and Rick Schantz discussed what had occurred, with part of the exchange caught on the TV match broadcast. Donovan can be heard saying “We have to get this out of our game”, and requesting the player be subbed off, with Rising FC’s coach stating “It isn’t a big deal,” and it’s “Homophobia, not racism.” The USL had recently elevated its policy towards racism, but this incident exposed shortcomings in the policy regarding other discriminatory types, along with the protocol of what to do if an alleged incident occurs that the referee does not hear, or is unfamiliar with what it means.
At first, it appeared the incident would end like soccer disputes seem to always end. But instead, when referee blew the whistle to resume play, the San Diego Loyal team took a knee and walked off the field.
The stadium went silent, and remained silent for a while. Several Phoenix Rising players were the first to try reconcile what had happened. One of the Rising FC players issued several insults and challenges to get the game to resume. Within seconds, multiple assistant coaches and players responded for him to be quiet. Those players and coaches were the first to realize what the rest of the stadium would soon understand.
The SD Loyal were going to forfeit, and there was nothing he could say to stop it.
After the game had come to an abrupt stop, San Diego Loyal coach Landon Donovan broke the silence. When he spoke, he discussed what occurred to result in the team walking off the field, the recent act of racism the team faced the prior week, along with Loyal commitment to “I will act, I will speak” that they had made the pledge to support. A link to the interview is provided at the end of the article.
The decision by the SD Loyal to stand up and forfeit came at great cost to the team.
By refusing to continue, the team removed the 3 points possible for the game, and also eliminated them from the playoffs.
Walking out of the stadium, the full gravity of the moment sank in.
A breaking point was reached, where people would stand up and walk away, instead of tolerating ongoing abuse.
The real question is what happens next…
San Diego Loyal Walks Away From USL Playoffs To Support Diversity first appeared on Game On Media.