SAN DIEGO – There was no question who the biggest star of the show was on Saturday night at Torero Stadium as San Diego Loyal SC took its first steps into the USL Championship.
Led by The Locals, the 6,100-plus supporters that packed the venue gave the Championship another memorable opening night to kick off the league’s 10th season. Showing off a pregame tifo that let everyone know who they were, and backing it up with 90 minutes of drumbeats and songs – say nothing of the explosion of sound that arrived when Charlie Adams scored the first league goal in club history – it was an atmosphere that couldn’t have failed to impress all on hand and watching on ESPNews.
“Awesome,” said SD Loyal Head Coach Landon Donovan. “Incredible crowd. San Diego showed up for their team and we will be back next weekend and we need it again. We need good energy and we hope to put on little bit of a better show. Very happy that people came out to support us.”
As for on the field? Well, there’s clearly a little more work to do. It was somewhat surprising, in fact, to see a side that had looked so fluid in its last preseason outing while scoring four goals against Reno 1868 FC the previous weekend struggle to piece together chances when the main event arrived.
“I was a little disappointed,” added Donovan. “I think we can do better and the guys know that. [They were] probably a little excited and we never really got control of the game. And we expected to, and we didn’t. We have a lot to learn. We’re a new team, a young team. The team is still jelling, but in the end, there are some things we need to do better. We know that.”
That SD Loyal was unable to find its rhythm is a credit to Las Vegas Lights FC, which got an early Goal of the Year contender from El Salvador international Junior Burgos and then showed off organization and attacking intent that allowed it to come away with a very creditable point. A little more patience in the final third might not go amiss – 15 of Vegas’ 21 shots came from outside the penalty area – but there was plenty to feel good about for Lights FC Head Coach Eric Wynalda.
“Tonight was a better representation of what Lights FC are and are going to be in the future,” said Wynalda. “There’s nobody out there that feels that we weren’t the better side today. We are staying humble. The boys had a pretty good postgame meeting. We still have a lot of work to do, but if this is our starting point, this is a team that is coming together, one that can’t be reckoned with.”
A point in hand, San Diego will get a chance at its first win again on Wednesday night as it visits Tacoma Defiance before returning home next Saturday night to welcome Rio Grande Valley FC.
It should welcome another raucous atmosphere, too, given the passion we saw in the stands at its debut.
“It was great to play here in front of these fans who bring amazing energy to the game,” said Adams. “They kept us going for the whole 90 minutes.”