U.S. Soccer Legend Landon Donovan’s Inaugural Match as Head Coach
In front of an exuberant sold-out crowd of 6,100 fans, USL Championship’s new San Diego club, San Diego Loyal, ties Las Vegas Lights in their inaugural match on March 7, 2020.
Landon Donovan‘s first-ever official pro game as head coach ended in a draw but America’s Finest City was clearly the winner.
USL Championship’s new expansion team, San Diego Loyal hit the field for their inaugural match and battled Las Vegas Lights with a sellout crowd cheering.
“Incredible crowd. San Diego showed up for the team. Thank you.”Landon Donovan, Head Coach San Diego Loyal
The final score of 1-1 does not reflect the back and forth action but the goal scored by Las Vegas’ Junior Burgos in the 4th minute clearly showcased SD Loyal’s strength — undaunted by their early mistake, the team in white pressed for a win until the very end.
SD Loyal’s equalizer came in the 15th minute when Charlie Adams made history scoring the first-ever goal for San Diego.
“Charlie’s goal was great, and their goal might have been the goal of the year — in the first five minutes of the season.”Landon Donovan, Head Coach San Diego Loyal
Donovan was really happy Adams was able to get SD Loyal on the scoreboard, although he wished the team could have built more and earn three points at the end. “I am proud to be a San Diegan,” said Donovan who was disappointed that they couldn’t give the fans a better show. “The experience is incredible, we just have to a better job on the field.”
After the score was tied, Las Vegas Lights turned up the high-pressure but San Diego maintained 59% of possession in this inaugural match and earned nearly one-third more passes —and between both teams, there was a total of 44 fouls called. Las Vegas outshot Loyal 21 to 3, earning San Diego a dramatically higher success ratio.
Another standout from SD Loyal was local player Jake Fenlason who is a graduate of Rancho Bernardo High School. Fenlason protected the net from a series of shots to preserve the 1-1 draw.
“Jake was great tonight, he really played well and kept us in the game at certain points.”Landon Donovan, Head Coach San Diego Loyal
The teams in the USL Championship rank just under the MLS and are the highest level of professional soccer in San Diego.
“We got a point out of the night. We grow from this game.”Carrie Taylor, Landon Donovan’s First Assistant Coach for USL’s San Diego Loyal
While both teams earned one point from the match, it is evident that newcomer SD Loyal has what it takes to match teams in the USL Championship.
“It was a tremendous atmosphere, the fans brought tons of energy to Torero Stadium. Loved the flags hanging in section109, displaying all the different home countries of our team,” says Assistant Coach Carrie Taylor, who encourages people who were not there to come and check out the experience next Saturday.
“Las Vegas played lots of long balls deep like we thought they would,” added Taylor, who is the only female coach coaching a men’s team in American professional soccer.
Beyond the battle on the field, it was an exciting match with two U.S. Soccer legends coaching their respective squads. Eric Wynalda is the technical director and head coach of Las Vegas Lights and while his record as a player is impressive, it is overshadowed by Donovan’s more prominent accomplishments.
The final score of 1-1 may not have thrilled Donovan but the fans seemed satisfied, especially as the Lights, which debuted in 2018, have the benefit of two years of experience and ranked #13 in last year’s USL Western Conference.
Up Next: SD Loyal next match is Wednesday away in Tacoma and they return to USD on March 14 to take on Rio Grande Valley. Las Vegas Lights FC hosts their home opener on Saturday, March 14 when they take on Sacramento Republic FC.
All images from SAN DIEGO LOYAL TIES LAS VEGAS IN FIRST-EVER USL MATCH (unless specified) Photo Credit: Diane Scavuzzo