After 448 days, the San Diego Loyal Soccer Club finally played a game in front of local fans. But Saturday night was more notable for another stat: The Loyal won its first game of the young season after four losses.
Alejandro Guido scored his first goal of the season in the 56th minute, and Corey Hertzog sent in the game-winner in the 87th minute to lead the Loyal 2-1 over the Las Vegas Lights at Torero Stadium on the campus of the University of San Diego.
“Inspired” by a packed end-zone section of 150 San Diego Locals — the team’s never-sitting, always-chanting and drumming support group — Loyal players and coaches spoke of making the USL Championship league postseason.
“Now we can start the week with a positive attitude and be able to say: ‘Hey, guys, we got this,'” said assistant coach Nate Miller, filling in for team VP and head coach Landon Donovan, whose red card at the end of the previous game banished him from the field.
“We can push forward, and if we stay strong at home, we’re going to make the playoff,” Miller said.
Chula Vista native Guido said the announced crowd of 2,033 really helped.
“We needed that support,” he said. “It changed the game. It changed the momentum. It gives you more energy. You’re in the 60th or 70th minute. Your legs are getting tired. … You can hear them and it’s just inspiring.”
Guido took a pass from Jack Blake from the right to near the top of the penalty box and sent a low-rolling, right-footed shot past Las Vegas goalkeeper Alex Rando.
Guido celebrated his third goal in 10 games with SD Loyal since joining the club late last season. He raised his arms and shook them as he looked to the dark skies and then onto the loud stands.
Hertzog and Guido’s scoring plays were part of SD Loyal’s attempt to pressure Las Vegas early in the second half after dominating possession in the first half.
Recently signed striker Miguel Berry entered in the second half. He helped attract two or three defenders at times, allowing more space for others to create chances around a backline that finished without starter Mohamed Traore.
That’s how the loose ball amid a forest of legs and deflections got to Hertzog who put in the game-winner.
“Everything was about putting pressure on them today,” Miller said about the plan against Las Vegas. “I thought our high pressure was good. We were able to settle in and take control. We did a good job sticking to the game plan, plugging away and eventually the moment came. You can see what Miguel Berry can do. He’s just a handful. He occupied two, three, four defenders sometimes and really allowed us to come in through the lines.”
Las Vegas (0-4-0) had taken a 1-0 lead with a 17th minute goal by Alvaro Quezada. He scored on a quick play seconds after SD Loyal’s Blake threatened with dangerous header. Quezada sent in a pass from Caleb Jennings, who steered through two SD Loyal defenders all the way to the end line and rolled a pass back in.
Quezada took the pass near the six-yard box, leaving Trey Muse without a chance. It was Las Vegas’ third goal of the season.
“I thought the whole team played well,” Miller said. “It was special to have [Hertzog] score. The team really responds to him and he works very hard for the team. So it was a big moment, We had to have it.”
Calling the season a journey and a process, Miller said: “Everything that we wanted as a staff for the players to execute, they did today.”
On playing at Torero Stadium, he said: “If we can make this place a fortress, if this is a third of our capacity and when it’s full and we keep the scoring, it’s going to be hard (for other teams) to come here.”
He added: “So we have to be really good at home. We have to make this place really scary for teams to come. And that’s a good first step.”