Scoring its first-ever goal, the San Diego Loyal won its inaugural game Saturday night — giving MLS legend Landon Donovan, coach and vice president, a reason to cheer.
But in defeating Costa del Este Football Club of Panama 1-0 at Torero Stadium, the Loyal also gave Donovan cause to jeer.
“I absolutely liked what I saw — minus a red card,” the former L.A. Galaxy star said of the exhibition match. “I don’t know exactly what happened, but that really kind of killed the game.”
Donovan wouldn’t say what provoked forward Irvin Parra to get the boot in the 60th minute, leaving his team a man short the rest of the game.
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“It doesn’t really matter what happened if you put yourself in a position to get set off,” said the 37-year-old coach, who conceded he’s been in situations “where you lose your cool for a minute.”
But he vowed: “We’ll deal with that.”
Thousands of noisy Loyal fans at the University of San Diego (where Donovan played twice) saw midfielder Jack Metcalf score in the 44th minute.
“Everyone’s excited about March 7,” Metcalf said of the United Soccer League Championship division home opener against the Las Vegas Lights. “But we still have a lot of work to do.”
This coming Saturday, San Diego travels to Reno for a second friendly, though,
Metcalf declared his club “so deep” in talent. “It’s probably the best squad I’ve ever been a part of. I would say (to fans): Show up because it’s going to be fun. We’re going to win a lot of games here.”
Less than an hour before the match, Donovan invited some young local players to a “chalk talk” inside Jenny Craig Pavilion, taking a handful of questions.
He said the Loyal, whose players have trained only five weeks, will use a 3-5-2 formation in contrast to the 4-3-3 employed by most other teams in the Western Conference.
“Their preparing for other 4-3-3s will make it very difficult to [counter the Loyal’s formation],” Donovan said.
Donovan said he recruited with two things in mind — that players wanted to be in San Diego and that they would “exemplify the values that are important to us.”
“There are a lot of players in this league who are good soccer players,” he said, “but we wanted good human beings.”
Asked whether the Panamanian club would be more “physical” because of its history, Donovan said: “I think they are going to be incredibly excited. … They see this as basically like a World Cup game. This means everything to them.”
Donovan, a San Diegan who lobbied for the doomed SoccerCity ballot initiative, reminded the audience why Major League Soccer has yet to come to America’s Finest City.
“SDCCU [Stadium] has a great history, but it’s not up to standards for what a modern stadium is,” he said. “That’s the reason that MLS is not here yet. But our focus is on making this [team] as good as we can make it.”
Of Torero Stadium, he said: “When this place is packed and there’s good energy, it’s a lot of fun. I think, without the red card, it might have been a little more entertaining in the second half. I think, all in all, people are getting a taste of how good this … soccer is.
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His message to San Diego?
“Give us a chance,” he said afterward. “I think when you talk to people who are here tonight — 4,000 or 5,000 people — they’ll tell you this is a good experience from what you see on the field but also a good experience off the field. The players loved it.”