San Diego Loyal SC will kick off their first season on Saturday and we make three outrageous and three realistic predictions.
What a preseason for San Diego Loyal Soccer Club! 4-0 and it all finished with a lovely 4-2 victory against Western Conference foes Reno 1868 Football Club. With the regular season finally starting, here are three outrageous (and three realistic) predictions about the inaugural season:
1. San Diego will go undefeated.
They haven’t lost a single game since they came into existence, so, of course, the team will never lose a match…
But back to reality. San Diego Loyal and their staff have put together a very competitive squad. We will talk about those guys later, but what should SD Loyal’s season expectations be and what will be the reality? With the way the team has played in the four preseason matches, supporters should be expecting SD Loyal to be in the playoff hunt.
Every supporter will want to win the West. With Phoenix signing everyone and their mother this offseason, they will be tough to dethrone at the top. Is San Diego going to be more like El Paso and end up above the play-in game? Will they be like New Mexico barely hanging on to 10th? Odds are they are somewhere in between those two. Most people have SD Loyal as a middle of the pack Western Conference team. Now, if trends hold, middle of the pack in the West is anywhere from 4th to 12th, so that is not saying much.
Actual Prediction: SD Loyal make the playoffs, finishing 6th.
2. Loyal will win the West, Parra will win the Golden Boot, and SD will dominate the best XI.
When it comes to San Diego Loyal and how they play, everything begins with the backline and Joe Greenspan. The 6 foot, 6 inch, 2019 Defender of the Year will be anchoring (no Navy pun intended) the defense. Let’s break down each third of the pitch:
If Coach Landon Donovan sticks with the 3 in the back all season, the team’s success will boil down to how well Greenspan plays, and how often he can say “No!” to attacking players. If the preseason is any indication, he will be in contention for a repeat of Defender of the Year. While the focus is on Loyal’s Paul Bunyan, that doesn’t make the rest of the Loyal backline, consisting of Emrah Klimenta, Sal Zizzo, Grant Stoneman, or Elijah Martin, simply Babe the Blue Ox- because Martin has been delightful this preseason. But, despite that, Greenspan is the key.
The midfield is probably the deepest part of the pitch. This is a big reason San Diego will play a version of the 3-5-2. Raul Mendiola (top-10 assists in the league last season), Eric Avila, Jack Metcalf, Charlie Adams, Morgan Hackworth, and Collin Martin are all names people who follow USL know, but it’s the newcomers that are the most intriguing.
Tumi Moshobane, who played for Lansing Ignite in League 1, is one of those. Yair Jean, from Costa Del Este in Panama, is the other. Both have been exciting in the preseason. The depth these players offer, and ability to pressure in the offensive third, will make the midfield one of the key matchups to watch this season.
Up top, the two names everyone will be paying attention to are Irvin Parra, who put up 15 goals and 7 assists last season, and Qudus Lawal, who put up 10 goals and 3 assists. Parra’s tallies put him top ten in both goals scored and assists in the Western Conference in 2019. Francis Atuahene has also been very good in the preseason. He bookended the preseason goal-scoring for Loyal, getting the only goal in the opening match and tallying the fourth and final goal against Reno.
Jake Fenlason and Amal Knight round out the possible starters, but it looks more and more like Fenlason will be the starting keeper as Knight has not played in the last two friendlies. That is not to say Knight won’t play, but Fenlason has played most of the minutes this preseason. Fenlason started 17 games in Saint Louis last year, keeping 7 clean sheets.
Actual Prediction: Joe Greenspan will end up on one of the USL All-League teams.
3. San Diego will lead the Western Conference in goals scored.
This one is not as crazy as the others, but with Phoenix in the division, it’ll be hard to keep pace. If there is anything we can take from the preseason, it’s that SD Loyal are going to be really fun to watch.
Landon Donovan said they will try to get all 3 points at home every time and play a little more conservative on the road, but if Reno is an indication, SD Loyal’s style will travel well. The midfielders can be very busy in the final 3rd but can rotate around to create a backline of four or have two drop back to go five at the back. We also saw both Elijah Martin and Sal Zizzo spending some time in the midfield against Reno, so we might see some of those defenders come up to the midfield on the road.
On the other side of the ball, SD Loyal has shown they can play lockdown defense, even a man down. In four preseason matches, they have only allowed three goals, one of them being a penalty. This will be important as the Western Conference has a lot of offensive firepower and a big difference between the top half of the West and the bottom isn’t just about how many you can put in, but rather how many you can keep out.
Actual Prediction: San Diego will be top-six in goals scored (Last season, 6th was New Mexico/Los Angeles with 59 goals) and in team defense (Last season, 6th was Austin with 52 Goals Against).
San Diego Loyal Soccer Club has their first match ever on March 7th at 7:00 pm at USD Torero Stadium in San Diego. They will take on Las Vegas Lights and will compete for the newly created “Legends Supporters Shield”. This is a joint venture between The Locals and The Electric Company to celebrate the inaugural game and the “Legends” that will be coaching on the sideline.