On fan appreciation day, the San Diego Loyal and their supporters appreciated both the excitement of the match and the fact that San Diego was guaranteed the second seed in the USL Western Conference, regardless of any other results. A thrilling 3-3 draw with New Mexico United, who had won just one of their previous ten matches, was the end result and roller coaster throughout.
The first 15 seconds of the match went about as badly as a match can go. New Mexico carved their way through three lines of Loyal defenders before firing a shot at 16-year-old Duran Ferree. Ferree saved it, but the rebound fell into a dangerous position, forcing San Diego to slide recklessly to clear the ball. The reckless slide led to a penalty kick, which Justin Portillo sent right down the middle while Ferree dove to the left.
The Loyal did not let their early struggles faze them, as they quickly began to pile on the pressure. Alejandro Guido hit a pair of shots well, but New Mexico goalkeeper Alex Tambakis was up to the task. San Diego was struck a blow that could have major playoff implications when Jack Blake was forced off in the 14th minute with a leg injury. He was replaced by Tumi Moshobane.
“We’ll be smart with Jack in what is a relatively meaningless game up in Sac(ramento),” said Landon Donovan post-match.
That didn’t stop the Loyal on the pitch, though, as Thomas Amang was the target of a long pass that appeared to have set him up perfectly. However, as a result of what appeared to be a foul, the ball was sent out of Amang’s reach. Referee Kevin Broadley disagreed, denying the Loyal a penalty kick. He didn’t deny them 10 minutes later, though, when Amang was cut down attempting a quick turn. The obvious penalty was called as such, sending Charlie Adams to the spot. Adams struck the ball well, firing it into the bottom right corner, leveling the score.
— San Diego Loyal (@SanDiegoLoyal) October 9, 2022
The penalty seemed to fire up San Diego’s rowdy offense even more, as they kept their foot on the gas. Amang looked as though he might find a second goal, firing a shot from a thigh angle. Tambakis got his hands to the shot well, but the rebound came straight to Guido. The talented midfielder simply lowered his head, and the ball flew into the net.
— San Diego Loyal (@SanDiegoLoyal) October 9, 2022
New Mexico was not ready to lie down, and they answered back in the 40th minute. The desperate visitors, who are in an intense battle for a playoff spot, executed a beautiful passing play peeling apart the Loyal defense. It culminated in Amando Moreno having the ball just feet from an open net after a lovely assist from Harry Swartz.
The score stayed level until the half, where Donovan chose to make his second substitution. Regular starter Elijah Martin was brought on for Ebenzer Ackon at right back as an attempt to help bolster a struggling defense. It proved to be unsuccessful in the short term, as Moreno stung a beautiful shot into the top left corner for his second goal in seven minutes.
“Elijah really stabilized us,” said Donovan, who described the second half as “much better.” The New Mexico lead was also short-lived, with San Diego answering back off a set piece. A free kick led to a corner, which was whipped into the corridor of uncertainty, and fell for Amang, who put the ball in from close distance.
Each team came agonizingly close to scoring in the next 15 minutes, with both doing so in the same fashion. Each side had a corner kick which fell into the mass of bodies surrounding the goal. However, neither team could find a way into the back of the net. The Loyal kept the pressure on, bringing on striker Kyle Vassell and defender Camden Riley as they sought to find a winner. Riley came on for veteran Jack Metcalf, who was making his final regular season home appearance. He’ll retire at the end of the season, and he was honored with a presentation on the video board.
Vassell, Riley, and Martin attempted to use their fresh legs to make a difference, but to no avail. New Mexico made three substitutions of their own quickly thereafter as the match got increasingly chippy. New Mexico finished with 17 fouls, while the Loyal committed 12 of their own. With so many whistles, it was difficult to get into a rhythm for either side, leading to some sloppy play for each team. The sloppy play manifested itself when Amang missed Guido on a short pass, one which could have set up Guido for a shot at the winning goal.
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Neither team had a shot in the first 6 minutes of stoppage time, but the Loyal did have a major opportunity on a free kick. Alejandro Guido sent the shot just wide, securing the draw.
It wasn’t the Loyal’s best match, but they were without many of their regular starters. They’ve got one more regular season game before hosting their first playoff game in franchise history on October 23.
Sam is a Senior in High School. He has been writing for three years, and started at EVT in June of 2021. He’s headed to Syracuse’s Newhouse School of Communications in the fall of 2023.