San Diego Loyal manager Landon Donovan said he told his players to soak in the experience. He should know, after all the international competitions he played in throughout his career.
His players got a taste of what Donovan called “a real soccer game” Saturday, witnessing the quality of the LIGA MX, Mexico’s top soccer league, in a 1-0 loss against visiting Club Tijuana Xolos.
In the international friendly at the University of San Diego’s Torero Stadium – played before a sold-out crowd of 6,100 – Edgar Lopez scored in the 34th minute, taking a loose ball inside the penalty box and sending it low and just inside the right post past Loyal goalkeeper Austin Guerrero.
Both teams used all the players on their rosters in the tightly played match.
Donovan opted to play mostly starters – only goalkeeper Trey Muse and Jack Blake sat out. The others got a taste of international soccer at what Donovan called “a couple levels above us.”
“We can’t create an experience like this without having it,” Donovan said. “You can’t talk to them about what higher level players look like until you feel it in a game like this. There’s no substitute playing against really great players.”
Goalkeeper Antony Siaha came on in the second half for Guerrero, along with 10 other substitutes as part of a full 11-man swap. Siaha saw a handful of good looks as Club Tijuana created dangerous situations.
Xolo Misael Dominguez had a pair of chances late. He sent a shot that Siaha just slapped away over the crossbar. A few minutes before that, Dominguez sent another powerful shot saved by Siaha, who had a total of five saves in 45 minutes of action.
The Loyal had chances of their own. Corey Hertzog nearly scored twice.
His header in the 41st minute flew over the Tijuana crossbar. He also sent a cross to the heart of the box on a run up the left side of the penalty box to Tumi Moshobane, but couldn’t connect. Midfielder Alejandro Guido, a former Xolo, moved the ball up field to help create these chances.
“I was definitely motivated against my former team,” said Guido, who played the first half. “It was a lot of fun. It was a good game. I really enjoyed it. I could have never imagined this, two professional teams from the area and now it’s happening being able to play in front of my family, involving two teams I’ve been part of.”
The Loyal (5-4-3) returns to USL Championship play Wednesday with a Week 12 home match against Orange County SC. The teams will battle for second place in the Pacific Division standings.