A series of LGBTQ+ inclusivity efforts were announced Thursday by San Diego Loyal SC, the United Soccer League and Phoenix Rising FC ahead of Friday night’s USL Championship league opener.
The match at Phoenix’s new 10,000-seat venue at Wild Horse Pass will air at 7 p.m. on ESPN2. It pits two teams involved in a player’s reputed homophobic remark last season. The Loyal walked off the field in the Sept. 30 match, and a Phoenix Rising player was suspended for six games.
Both teams will sign an “inclusivity pledge” at halftime of the contest.
The teams will also come together before the opening kickoff to show solidarity with the USL’s recently launched Forever Proud project, created to reinforce USL’s commitment to social impact initiatives including support and advocacy for the LGBTQ+ community.
In the days leading up to Friday’s match, USL partner Common Goal is piloting a restorative justice program to create community, understanding and reconciliation between San Diego Loyal SC and Phoenix Rising players.
The teams will take part in a series of individual and combined three-hour sessions during the 2021 season, with the goal of moving beyond the traditional retribution-based narrative around homophobic and racial abuse.
“What makes this endeavor incredibly unique is the fact that USL is actively modeling the behavior needed to reconstruct in a real and transformative way,” said Common Goal’s Lilli Barrett-O’Keefe. “This should become the standard for how all teams handle such conflicts.”
Said Phoenix Rising FC Governor Berke Bakay: “It’s very encouraging to see this situation come full-circle and witness the positive changes that are happening as a result. We have listened to and worked with multiple LGBTQ groups and individuals to not only understand the difference between tolerance and acceptance, but to learn how we can continue to grow as allies.”
San Diego Loyal Chairman Andrew Vassiliadis said the match also provides a healing opportunity for openly gay midfielder Collin Martin, other Loyal players and the LGBTQ+ community.
Said USL President Jake Edwards: “We continue to look for ways to make USL a more inclusive and community driven league. It’s important for us to move beyond just punitive measures and also look inward to find ways to get to the root of the issues themselves.”
Many new players were added to the Loyal roster in the offseason.
Loyal members are goalkeepers Trey Muse (on loan), Austin Guerrero and Antony Siaha; defenders Elijah Martin, Jack Metcalf, Grant Stoneman, Sal Zizzo, Thomas Vancaeyezeele, Jordan Chavez, and Joshua Yaro; and midfielders Charlie Adams, Martin, Tumi Moshobane, Jack Blake, Morgan Hackworth, Alejandro Guido.
The team announced defender Joshua Yaro will join the roster.
“Josh has proven to be one of the best defenders in the league and we are very fortunate to add a player of his quality to our roster,” said Landon Donovan, executive vice president of soccer operations and manager. “He is intelligent, technically very good, physically very athletic and will add experience and leadership to our backline.”
Season ticket memberships are on sale through April 30. Call (858) 465-GOAL or visit sdloyal.com/tickets.