The last time San Diego Loyal SC played an official match was September 30th of 2020. The opponent was Phoenix Rising FC, at the time the team with the best record in USL Championship. San Diego led 3-1 and was steamrolling towards the playoffs.
Then a Phoenix player used a homophobic slur against San Diego’s Collin Martin, one of the few openly gay professional soccer players. That comment went unpunished so the Loyal walked off the pitch to support their teammate.
On Friday night, the Loyal return for their 2nd season and their first match is in Arizona. The good news is, that incident has led to something positive.
USL Championship has developed The Common Goal, an initiative that provides inclusion and diversity seminars for every team in the league. Over the course of the season, USL Championship clubs will participate in individual and combined educational sessions to learn about homophobic and racial abuse.
Rising FC, to their credit, worked with the league and Loyal SC to develop the idea.
“Following last year’s incident, the match also provides a healing opportunity for Collin, our players and the LGBTQ+ community,” says San Diego Loyal Chairman Andrew Vassilaidis. “We’re grateful and proud that the League and Phoenix Rising are listening, educating, and taking action alongside us. Our collective efforts will help us be better organizations and better community partners going forward. We can’t wait to meet on the pitch this Friday not only as good soccer players, but even better human beings. Go Loyal!”
Phoenix is one of the best teams in the league and plays in San Diego’s division so there was already a rivalry brewing. This time, though, the teams and fan bases can dislike one another for traditionally acceptable sporting reasons.
“I’m new to San Diego so I had to learn the whole “Zonie” thing,” says Loyal SC co-founder Warren Smith. “There’s a little bit of frustration in our community for the fact they take over our community for a few months. So, you build on top of that. And, they’re a good team. You always want to be the best by playing the best and through that it gets a little chippy.”
Loyal SC opens with four straight road matches. Their first game at Torero Stadium will be May 29 against Las Vegas Lights FC.