A look at San Diego’s newest professional team, the SD Loyal SC.
The time is finally here for professional soccer in San Diego. There hasn’t been much action so far for the Loyal, but the fans have great expectations for the new club.
San Diego’s first inaugural preseason match was a success as the Loyal defeated MLS’s own FC Dallas 1-0 this past Sunday, Feb. 2. Many fans and supporters came out to watch their new team in action for the first time.
The Loyal will play in the USL Championship league, which is the second division of U.S. pro soccer behind Major League Soccer (MLS). The USL Championship consists of 35 professional clubs (17 in the Eastern Conference and 18 in the Western Conference) across the U.S. and Canada.
The Loyal is one of the two expansion teams making their debut in 2020 (the other is Miami FC). The USL Championship is also referred to as the “MLS Reserve League,” as 14 of the teams are direct affiliates to MLS clubs. Some notable affiliates are the New York Red Bulls II, LA Galaxy II, and the Portland Timbers II.
The Loyal confirmed that they will play their home games this season at Torero Stadium on the University of San Diego campus. Torero stadium has a capacity of 6,000 spectators and has hosted MLS, Liga MX, and USL Championship events in the past. It is also the home to the San Diego Legion Rugby Club.
The team is to be managed by MLS legend and Southern California native Landon Donovan. The former LA Galaxy star has been trying for years to bring a team to San Diego, and his dream has come true. The fans of San Diego have supported Donovan and are anxious to watch the new club play. Donovan is considered one of the greatest U.S. soccer players of all time, and his knowledge of the game will benefit the Loyal for years to come.
Many of the Loyal players have played for USL Championship teams in the past as well as logging minutes in the MLS. San Diego native and defender Sal Sizzo has seen over 160 MLS appearances as he has suited up for teams like the Portland Timbers, Sporting Kansas City, and New York Red Bulls. Sizzo was the first player signed in SD Loyal SC history.
Another San Diego native is Eric Avila, who has also spent time in the MLS playing for FC Dallas, Toronto FC, and Chivas USA. The midfielder scored a combined eight goals between those three clubs. Defender Emrah Klimenta comes to San Diego after a short stint with the LA Galaxy in 2018 and spent time with Reno 1868 FC last season.
A name that stands out is defender Joe Greenspan. Greenspan played for Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC last season, where he was named USL Championship Defender of the Year. He led the Hounds to 17 shutouts, which tied the league’s regular-season record set by the Rochester Rhinos in 2015. In 2014, Greenspan served a year of active duty before the U.S. Navy transferred him to the Navy Reserve in 2015, allowing him to pursue a career in soccer.
Some other players to watch for include attacking midfielder Raul Mendiola, goalkeeper Amal Knight, and forward Qudus Lawal. Mendiola spent time with the LA Galaxy from 2014-2017 and made 13 appearances. Knight comes from Jamaica, where he played six seasons professionally and three caps for the Jamaica national team. Lawal is from Nigeria and spent last season playing for Fresno FC, where he made 30 appearances — scoring ten goals.
The Loyal will play 34 games this season against teams from the Western Conference. They will play each team twice, one at home and one on the road. The top 10 teams from each conference will qualify for the playoffs, which will continue to be held with separate brackets for each conference and will be single elimination.
San Diego will play two more friendly matches at the end of the month before their season starts on Mar. 7 against Las Vegas Lights FC. The times are still yet to be determined for USL Championship matches. On Saturday, Mar. 28, the Loyal will host a friendly against the Tijuana Xolos at 7 p.m.
San Diego comes into this season not knowing how they will finish, but the players are determined to make a name for themselves and look to open the door for the legacy of the Loyal.
Chris is a graduate of the University of San Diego. He is the former Sports Editor for the USDVista newspaper. Chris is also an athlete and is huge fan of San Diego sports. Chris has covered the San Diego Loyal, and contributes regularly about the Padres.