Loyal midfielder Jack Blake (center) and defender Jack Metcalf (second from the left) share a light moment during a break in practice. Photo by Chris Stone

Preseason games begin Saturday for San Diego Loyal Soccer Club. They’re closed to the public, but around 1,500 fans could be in USD’s Torero Stadium in May if San Diego can slide into the COVID red tier.

“One of the reasons I came to San Diego and I wanted to play here so badly was to have all of my friends and family there,” Loyal team captain Sal Zizzo said Friday. “So I’m super excited about that.”

The Loyal will face Cal United Strikers Saturday morning at the Chula Vista Elite Athlete Training Center, where practice is held.

“We hope that things keep trending the right way,” Landon Donovan, Loyal manager and executive vice president, said of pandemic rules easing. “The state seems like they’re going to allow us to have some people at the stadium, so I know that our fans are really excited.”

USL Championship hasn’t announced a regular season schedule, but 32 games for each team are planned over 27 weeks. USL has 31 teams across four divisions within two conferences.

This season is beginning two months later than usual.

The Loyal tackle LA Galaxy II on March 20 in Carson, host New Mexico United on April 3, play Seattle Sounders on April 1 in Carson and host Cal State Fullerton on April 17. Another preseason game is set for March 27, but no opponent is yet listed.

Donovan predicted the schedule may be released in the next week or so.
 
Speaking at training camp Friday, Donovan assessed his team.

“We are much, much further along than we were last year at this point as we should be,” said the American soccer legend. “There are a lot of returning players and more continuity.”

In the offseason, the Loyal added goalkeepers Trey Muse (on loan) and Antony Siaha; defenders Thomas Vancaeyezeele, Ebenezer Ackon, Jordan Chavez; and forwards Corey Hertzog and Niki Jackson.

Returning players are goalkeeper Austin Guerrero, defenders Elijah Martin, Jack Metcalf, Grant Stoneman, and Sal Zizzo; midfielders Charlie Adams, Collin Martin, Tumi Moshobane, Jack Blake, Morgan Hackworth, and Alejandro Guido; and forward Ben Spencer.

Midfielder Guido, a Chula Vista native, was re-signed this week and was given Number 10, a coveted honor.

“We are elated to welcome Alejandro back to our club,” Donovan said in a statement. “He had an immediate impact when he arrived last year and we feel extremely fortunate to have a player of his caliber at our club. He makes our team better in every way, and we look forward to great things from him this season.”

Donovan said Friday it is possible one or two more players will be added, but the roster is basically set for the season.

The Pacific Division Western Conference comprises Phoenix Rising FC (last year’s top division team), LA Galaxy II, Oakland Roots SC (new team), Orange County SC, Sacramento Republic FC , San Diego Loyal SC, Las Vegas Lights FC and Tacoma Defiance.

“We have a very good division like we had last year, but that’s good for us,” Donovan said.

Zizzo commented on the upcoming season.

“It’s a tough league. USL is a hard league,” he said, adding that the Loyal will be playing each team four times throughout the season.

Repeated games with the same teams is challenging, Zizzo said, because teams become familiar with each others’ play.

The USL Championship’s regular season will begin on or about May 1.

Said Zizzo, talking about having fans in the stands: “The demand is going to be there because people are going to want to get out. It’s going to be an exciting year, and I’m really excited for it.”
 
Season ticket memberships are on sale for six payments of $16.50 through March 31, 2021. Seats can be purchased by calling (858) 465-GOAL or visiting sdloyal.com/tickets.

For frequently asked questions about attending matches this season, click on https://www.sdloyal.com/ticketfaqs.

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