Brian Guzman says his hometown of Everett, Washington — north of Seattle — recently had about 10 inches of snow. Not exactly soccer weather.
But Saturday, the 19-year-old talent was at the overcast-turning-sunny SoCal Sports Complex in Oceanside, showing his moves to U.S. soccer legend Landon Donovan and scouting staff of the San Diego Loyal.
“I think I did good,” he said after a morning tryout among 150 mostly local aspirants — ages 15 to 26 — who paid $115 each for the chance of being selected as a “trialist” and a spot on the USL Championship team’s preseason roster.
A second tryout — not open to the public — is set Saturday in Chula Vista.
“Did a lot of good passes, scored a free kick,” Guzman said, pursuing his dream of playing professional soccer. “They told me to stay a little bit just in case someone doesn’t finish [the game] so I can go in.”
Donovan, co-owner and manager, watched a series of games on two adjoining fields in hour sessions. He called the skill level a little better than he expected.
“I would say there’s probably five or six who we’ve identified as potential candidates for this spot in preseason,” he said. “I’m happy with how it’s going so far.”
The tryouts are Donovan’s way of fulfilling his promise to give local youth a shot at a spot on the team.
“We want to be a club that really connects with the community here,” Donovan said between sessions. “And there’s no better way to do that than to really give somebody an opportunity.”
Last year, he noted, the first-year soccer club found one of its goalkeepers from these tryouts — Austin Guerrero.
Veteran goalkeeper Guerrero, 31, whose signing was announced Friday, helped rate the players Saturday.
“I think there are some guys who can fit some question marks that we have in certain positions,” he said. “I think the staff is always looking for talent. And there’s some good talent here, for sure.”
He described the emotions felt at tryout.
“It’s kind of what I told the group not too long ago: This is kind of the fun stuff of soccer, days that really matter, days that really count toward something,” he said.
Tryout entrants are nervous, he said, but it’s also “like really fun — because you’re gambling on yourself and your game is on the line. It’s an amazing experience.”
Donovan spoke to each tryout group before and after they took the field — encouraging them to give their best effort but candidly saying their chances of making the team — out of 300 tryout competitors — were slim.
Guerrero had been playing professionally for seven years — in Reno, North Carolina and in Mexico — before his 2020 Loyal tryout, but he had taken a year off.
“I decided I wasn’t done playing, and so I came out to the tryout to show that I could still do it,” he said. “And luckily the staff took a chance on me.”
Donovan is looking for someone good enough to play on the Division 2 professional level, but especially someone who fits with the team’s culture.
“If you’re not a good human being, you’re not going to fit in,” he said. “If you don’t have a hunger and the desire to be a pro every day, you’ve got no chance. You’ll get eaten alive.”
Last season, the Loyal made world news when it forfeited season-ending games after incidents of racism and homophobia by opposing teams.
“You know, we’re united,” Guerrero said. “And we’re not going to put up with any BS.”
He said that while trash talk and banter is part of the game, “there’s a certain line and we’re not going to put up with anything beyond that line. … We’re not going to let anybody disrespect teammates in a way that we deem unacceptable.”
Brendan Hildreth, 22, of Pasadena, says he’s played soccer since age 5.
Now he stars at CSU Northridge — a red-shirt senior for the Matadors in 2020.
“I want to take my game to the next level and play pro,” he said. “That’s my passion.”
Hildreth was excited to play in front of Donovan — “I watched him on TV growing up. … He asked me a bit about my college season and where I was from. I played where he grew up in Ontario.”
What does playing soccer mean to him?
“Everything,” he said. “It’s an escape from all the negativity, especially in the world right now — with COVID and politics. And it’s just fun, and you can have it as a job. When you can have your passion as a job, it’s not really a job.”
Now the job involves waiting for state health authorities to give a green light to fan attendance.
Donovan is “very optimistic” the Loyal will play all its games. But the bigger question, he said, is: How many will fill the stands at Torero Stadium at the University of San Diego?
“The world is trending in the right direction of vaccines, etc.,” he said. “We love playing in front of people, and San Diegans who love soccer — and love San Diego — want to come watch this team play. So we’re hopeful.”
Donovan says people have a pent-up desire to go to sporting events — “to go out and do things.”
“Our ticket sales have been really good,” he said, noting reduced spending of discretionary income on entertainment for a year.
“So people are really excited about” the season. “And we hope the state gives us the opportunity to have fans (at games).”