The San Diego Loyal played strong defense against Orange County SC as Francis Atuahene tangles (center) tangles with opponents. Photo courtesy of San Diego Loyal

San Diego Loyal goalkeeper Jon Kempin returned to the pitch Saturday evening, snuffing Orange County’s season-long home-win streak in a scoreless tie in Irvine.

Kempin returned after a weeks-long recovery from injuries suffered in an earlier match — he got three saves against the tough Orange County team that had a win and a tie against first-place Phoenix Rising in July.

But Coach Landon Donovan’s team could not finish the attacks to find the back of the goal against the host club at Championship Soccer Stadium.

However, the USL Championship league team’s defensive skills were strong, with significant plays by Jack Metcalf and Elijah Martin. In the first half, the Loyal took on mostly a defensive stance.

New Loyal forward Miguel Berry came the closest to scoring for San Diego in the 67th minute, but ended up in the bushes instead.

It was Berry’s debut with the Loyal after being loaned earlier this week from Major League Soccer side Columbus Crew. The newcomer didn’t get many opportunities or touches in a tight match that featured both teams trying to win midfield.

Berry broke away from his mark on a one-on-one against Orange County goalkeeper Fred Due but he dribbled too far and ran out of room as Due closed out space, slid and grabbed the ball.

Berry could not get a shot off with three defenders chasing behind him and hurdled over Due. Berry was one Donovan’s additions in an attempt to spark his offense. The offense could not catch a break Saturday night. Loyal could not get enough balls to its forwards, including Berry, leading to the tie.

The tie gives San Diego (3-4-3, 12 points) a point in the standings, its first since a scoreless tie at home against the Sacramento Republic Aug. 1. The point also keeps Loyal in third place, tied with LA Galaxy II while Orange County moves to 15 points with a 4-1-3 record in the Group B standings.

Earlier Saturday, Loyal part-owner Warren Smith expressed dismay at not seeing a soccer stadium plan chosen for the Midway area.

Phoenix sits in first place with 20 points.

The Group B teams spent much of the first half Saturday trying to get a feel for each other’s playing style, neither creating really dangerous attacks. Orange County SC had what was perhaps the clearest chance of the half when Sean Okoli sent a header just wide off the SD Loyal left post off a set piece.

The first time these two teams played was at USD Torero Stadium with Orange County scoring twice in the second half despite San Diego controlling possession and pressing forward.

This time, Orange County was able to generate more chances. It nearly scored in the 52nd minute when Darwin Jones sped up field through the left and fired a shot off the bottom of the crossbar. The ball ricocheted down into the six-yard box and the Loyal managed to clear the ball to end the threat.

San Diego will continue on the road as it visits Las Vegas Lights on Sept. 2 in a rescheduled match that was postponed due to someone for Las Vegas Lights FC tested positive for COVID-19.

The Loyal’s next home game — at USD’s Torero Stadium — is a return match with Orange County on Sunday, Sept. 13.

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