MLS’s Championship Team Columbus Crew Had Players on Loan for Inaugural SD Loyal Season
The soccer world is small. Most people at the top know each other or know of each other … but not everyone realizes the connections that ties us all together.
There were undoubtedly several storylines surrounding Columbus Crew‘s victory over the Seattle Sounders in the 2020 MLS Cup Final on Saturday night.
Columbus Crew SC won the second championship in the club’s Major League Soccer history, defeating Seattle Sounders FC 3-0. Lucas Zelarayán was MLS Cup MVP after scoring two goals and adding one assist, involving in all three Crew SC goals, just the second player in MLS Cup history to be involved in three goals in a single final. Derrick Etienne Jr. scored the other goal for Columbus.
It marked the last match to be played at MAPFRE Stadium, originally known as Columbus Crew Stadium, which hosted its first game during the league’s inaugural season back in 1996.
Zelarayán became just the third player to score two goals in MLS Cup, along with Landon Donovan (SJ, 2003) and Alecko Eskandarian (DC, 2004).
However, there was another connection that has not received the attention it deserves which is the one between the newly crowned Columbus Crew SC and the USL Championship team San Diego Loyal who, coincidentally, happen to be coached by Donovan himself.
SD Loyal had a historic inaugural season in 2020 — not just for what they did on the field but off the field as well. This USL Championship club stood up to racism and homophobia and earned national recognition for placing values over on field victories.
Two of San Diego Loyal’s standout players, goalkeeper Jon Kempin and striker Miguel Berry were on loan from none other than, you guessed it, Columbus Crew SC.
“Last night was a night that I can’t explain,” Berry said. The 23-year-old USD Torero standout arrived in San Diego at the end of August and played his first match for the team the following day. Berry would record his first assist on September 2nd against Las Vegas Lights and his first goal in his following match against LA Galaxy II on September 9th which was the fastest goal in the league that season — just 28 seconds into the game. Berry followed up with another goal in the 38th minute of the match, helping lead San Diego to a 3-0 win.
In the meantime, Kempin would have an outstanding season of his own protecting the goal. Kempin had five shutouts in the 10 matches he played during 2020. The force in front of the goal came up only an inch short of winning the USL Golden Glove Trophy mainly due to the loss of three goals … this was the penalty USL inflicted on San Diego Loyal for forfeiting a match against Phoenix Rising FC. No one wanted the San Diego pro club to end its inaugural season with a forfeit but at the start of the second half, players, coaches, and staff walked off the field together, in protest following a homophobic slur towards teammate Collin Martin. SD Loyal was leading the game 3-1 when they refused to play the rest of the match.
San Diego Loyal SC has consistently taken a stand against hate in any form.
The incident garnered national attention and the response from his team support from all over the world. “I couldn’t be more proud to be part of this club,” said Landon Donovan after their final USL Championship match of the season.
It is not yet clear if Kempin or Berry will be back with San Diego Loyal for 2021, their names were not among the list of returning players announced last week which included defenders Sal Zizzo and Elijah Martin. Regardless, their impact will not be soon forgotten as both celebrate a feat that few players will ever get to enjoy, being crowned the champions of Major League Soccer.
On a final note, congratulations to Caleb Porter who became the sixth head coach in MLS history to win multiple titles, the fifth now with two wins (behind Bruce Arena with five). He is also now the third coach in league history to win MLS Cup with two different teams, having also won in 2015 with the Portland Timbers (also in Columbus, vs. the Crew).