San Diego Rallies, Gets First Win
San Diego Loyal Soccer Club traveled for the first, and hopefully not last, time in their inaugural season. This trip took them to take on Tacoma Defiance, the second division team for the Seattle Sounders. Tacoma usually draws pretty well for a two team, averaging over 2,600 last season, but this game would be played behind closed doors adding to a very eerie atmosphere. Several fans did find their way to a nearby hill to take in the game, so at least there were some spectators to take in the last game to be played in the USL Championship for the foreseeable future.
In the 4th minute Tacoma did have a look at goal, but it floated harmlessly over the bar. After that, San Diego looked the better of the teams. They kept pressure high and looked a lot more like the exciting team we last saw in Reno during the preseason. Every time it looked like Tacoma would have a good look, San Diego would recover and put an end to Defiance’s advance. Beverly Makangila and Collin Martin played well in midfield, taking turns dropping back to play in a defensive midfield roll. They also drifted forward to put pressure on Tacoma’s defense, and it was Martin that would help put San Diego on the board first.
After a foul in the 30th minute, San Diego tried to take a quick free kick, but the referee stopped them and make them take it again. It turned out to be a fortuitous decision for San Diego. Collin Martin put a beautiful cross in, and Francis Atuahene beat his mark to the ball to direct the ball on frame and into the net to put San Diego up a goal.
The first half continued to see SD Loyal defend well. There were a couple of moments where San Diego looked a little shaky on the back line, but they quickly recovered. Elijah Martin had a great moment when Emrah Klimenta couldn’t play an awkwardly bouncing ball. The ball found its way to a Tacoma player, and Martin reacted quickly to clear the ball and end the danger.
SD Loyal looked like they were going to add to their lead in stoppage time, this time on a Jerome Ngom cross. He put a beautiful ball into the box, but it was too high for one SD Loyal player, and flew just by another one as he streaked toward goal. Over all, the first half looked like a much better effort for SD Loyal then their home opener, and they took a one goal lead into the half.
The second half started with both teams having some time on the ball, but most of the play was in the midfield. Neither team was getting the better run of form until the 56th minute. Shandon Hopeau got a ball over the top and had already gotten around Elijah Martin. Hopeau drove into the box and slid the ball over to Justin Dhillon, who was ahead of Stoneman to put an easy shot into the back of the net to bring Tacoma back level.
SD Loyal hunkered down and played defensively well for long periods of the second half, all the while increasing the pressure in the offensive third. In the 60th minute Jack Metcalf was subbed on to the field, and SD Loyal used him to increase the tempo of play. Qudus Lawal came on in the 65th minute and his ability to hold up play was a key component of SD Loyal’s ability to keep pressure on Tacoma’s back line.
San Diego had several really good chances to take back the lead. In the 79th minute, it looked like Francis Atuahene would add to his goal total. Lawal corralled a great cross from Metcalf in the box. He turned with it, but couldn’t maintain his balance. The ball bounced free and Atuahene was the first one to it. He took a strong strike, but it hit the post and bounced straight to Tacoma keeper Trey Muse who fell on it.
San Diego continued to increase their pressure and pin Tacoma back in their half of the pitch. Lawal and Charlie Adams had good looks at goal, but SD Loyal could not find that final ball to pull them back into the lead.
In the 85th minute, Lawal fought hard to keep the ball just passed midfield, and Elijah Martin was able to jump on it. He put a beautiful ball into space, where Jack Metcalf could run on to it. He took one touch to cross the ball into the box where Atuahene was waiting yet again. Even though it took a slight deflection off of a Tacoma defender, Atuahene was able to get a great shot on frame and snuck it by Muse to put San Diego in front with just five minutes remaining in regular time.
The 88th minute saw Lawal take on a Tacoma defender one versus one, and get the best of him, but his shot to the near post was saved and bounced just out for a corner kick. Tacoma looked threatening the last several minutes of stoppage time, but Charlie Adams came up with a huge block in the last minute to keep Tacoma at one and seal the victory for the visitors.
There were a lot of positives to take away from this match. Collin Martin and Beverly Makangila looked to be a good pair in the middle of the pitch. Avila looked great as well. Jack Metcalf coming on to the pitch really changed the momentum of the second half, and he had yet another great game. The Man of the Match had to be Francis Atuahene though. His two goals continued his hot form from preseason, and SD Loyal have to feel good getting a brace from a player not named Lawal or Parra.
We don’t know when we will see SD Loyal on the pitch again, as play has been suspended for a minimum of 30 days, but I am sure the team feels great after bouncing back and getting a big three points on the road.
Keep an eye out for announcements regarding when the team will start playing again, but the Landon Donovan put out a message today on social media saying that the team is going to be in training. This is another good sign that there is light at the end of the tunnel, and SD Loyal will be back on the pitch in 2020.
31': Francis Atuahene (Collin Martin)
56': Justin Dhillon (Shandon Hopeau)
85': Francis Atuahene (Jack Metcalf)
38': Taylor Mueller
57': Grant Stoneman
89': Francis Atuahene
90'+2': Jon Kempin