On November 5, San Diego Loyal SC lost its first ever playoff match in San Antonio 2-0. Since then manager Landon Donovan has been working to move past that setback while also making sure nobody on the club forgets it.
"I look at it more as part of the process. I wasn't expecting to walk through the playoffs," says Donovan. "I thought we had a chance to beat any team in the league, which we've proven we can do. But, the playoffs are a different beast. We have a lot of guys who are experienced in age but not in the actual experience of playoff games or knockout games. So, that was a really good experience. I told them after the game, I reminded them to remember that feeling of losing and how that felt because this season, in 2022, we've gonna be back preparing for a game in the playoffs, hopefully at USD, and I want them to know that this is do-or-die."
That journey begins on March 12, 2022. The Loyal open the season against LA Galaxy II with a 7:00pm kickoff at Torero Stadium.
Most of the band is getting back together. Donovan expects 14 to 16 players from that playoff roster to return for 2022, with a few new additions to be announced in the coming weeks.
The Loyal open training camp on January 31 and don't waste any time facing other teams, setting up an exhibition day at the Elite Athlete Training Center in Chula Vista on February 5 against fellow USL Championship side New Mexico United and USL League One expansion club Central Valley Fuego GC (based in Fresno). The full preseason slate looks like this:
Feb. 5 – New Mexico United // Central Valley Fuego FC // at CVEATC // TBD
Feb. 13 – Vancouver Whitecaps FC // at Torero Stadium // 3 p.m.
Feb. 19 – Club Tijuana Xolos // at Torero Stadium // 7 p.m.
Feb. 26 – LA Force // at CVEATC // TBD
March 5 – San Diego State University // at SDSU // 6:30 p.m.
If you'd like to join the club, you have a chance to do just that.
On January 21, Loyal SC is holding an open tryout at USD's Valley Field and when they say open, they mean open. Anyone age 15 to 35 can register for the workout. The Loyal staff is legitimately looking for untapped talent.
In 2021 they brought in a few players from the tryout who got to play in preseason matches and in 2019 they landed goalie Austin Guerrero from an open tryout. The Chula Vista native took over in goal after Trey Muse got hurt and allowed just 17 goals in 15 games with five shutouts.
"This is not a theoretical, this is possible," says Donovan. "The way I look at it as there are two groups of players (in the tryout): someone in the 19-to-27 range who has not had the opportunity, for whatever reasons, to be a pro who might be good enough to make our team or someone who's younger who, even if they don't make our first team they can make our Loyal Select team."
Loyal Select is the club's development academy. In its first year of existence they had C.J. Fodrey, Ian Mai and Xavi Gnaulati, all local high schoolers, appear in USL Championship league matches and contribute.
"You never know," says Donovan. "You never know if someone's going to be good enough but we've proven over the years that we're willing to take someone if they're good enough."
It's all part of what the team name means: being loyal to San Diego's soil. But, there's also a time crunch. Only 125 spots are open for the tryout. You can find out how to join the field of hopefuls by clicking here.