WHAT: On Friday, Nov. 1, San Diego Loyal is set to visit San Antonio FC for its first ever playoff matchup. The USL Championship Playoffs Quarterfinals which will be broadcasted on YurView and ESPN+ and on Azteca America 33 in Spanish.
Reaching the playoffs wasn’t easy for SD Loyal despite clinching a postseason berth on Oct. 16 with four regular season matches remaining. It started the season 0-4 with four-straight road wins but then bounced back with an eight-game unbeaten streak through early July. The rollercoaster continued with a series of streaks where it earned points and others where it struggled to keep leads late in matches. However, regardless of the result, coach Landon Donovan’s team continued to play its brand of soccer, often playing to the manager’s expectations. And that is what Landon hopes his team keeps doing in the playoffs. After all, SD Loyal also had to overcome roster moves due to injuries to key starters. It relied on loans from Major League Soccer clubs, which adapted to the team’s style of play quickly. Now Donovan is getting most of his players back just in time for the playoffs. Donovan expects to see more challenges against the next opponent but the key will be how his players respond.
“My challenge to the team is, even in the hard moments, can we keep playing and keep attempting to play like the home team, even when it gets hard,” Donovan said. “You are under pressure for a few minutes and how do you flip the field again so we can get back to what we actually do well.”
What SD Loyal does well is control the pace of the game and maintain possession to create scoring chances. The Loyal will need to prove they can do that on the road against an opponent it has never faced and with the playoff pressure.
“I said to them (the players) that on Friday we may be up a goal and we may have 20 minutes to go and I can promise you San Antonio has very good players they’re going to put us under a ton of pressure,” Donovan said. “How do you continue playing the same way, even though it’s hard? We worked on that during the week but ultimately, we are really excited. It’s our first playoff game in our history and we are going there with every intention, like always, to play like the home team and win the game.”
San Antonio comes into the game having clinched the second place spot in the Mountain Division. It finished with a 14-8-10 record with 52 points. San Antonio secured second place with a 3-0 win against Colorado Springs Switchbacks in a pivotal match for the Texan side. San Antonio went ahead early with a fifth minute Colorado Springs own goal. Then it was Jose Gallegos and Kortne Ford scoring in the second half. San Antonio’s 14 wins are the second best in team history. Coach Alen Marcina’s team finished the last five games of the regular season 2-1-2 after a shaky start to the season but solid finish to earn a spot in the playoffs.
“They had a rough start to the season. They had trouble I think trying to figure out who their best 11 were,” Donovan said about San Antonio. “Over the last 10 or 12 games they’ve been fantastic and climbed the table to be where they are now. They have talented players. That’s the simplest way to put it. They have talented players all over the field. We like the matchup, the big field should be in good shape and that suits us well. We are going there to play like the home team, try to dominate the ball and finish chances and if we finish those chances we have a real good chance to win.”