The slogan San Diego Loyal adopted after one of their players was the target of racial abuse by an opponent last week was “I will act, I will speak.”
The USL Championship club coached by Landon Donovan, who is also EVP of Soccer Operations, put that to action Wednesday night by walking off the field at the start of the second half and forfeiting their final regular season match against Phoenix Rising in reaction to an alleged homophobic slur directed at former MLS player Collin Martin, who is openly gay.
“Our guys to their immense credit said we’re not going to stand for this. They were very clear in that moment they were giving up all hopes of making the playoffs even though they were beating one of the best teams in the league handily,” Donovan said in a video released on San Diego Loyal’s social media handles. “But they said it doesn’t matter. There’s things more important in life and we have to stick up for what we believe in.”
Donovan expressed regret for not acting in the moment last week when one of his players was racially abused by Omar Ontiveros of LA Galaxy II. Ontiveros, who was sent off for the 71st-minute incident, was also suspended six matches by USL and Galaxy II mutually agreed to part ways with the defender a few days later.
“We made a vow to ourselves, to our community, to our players, the club, to USL that we would not stand for bigotry, homophobic slurs, things that don’t belong in our game,” Donovan said. “So much so that on our sign boards we made a statement saying ‘I will act, I will speak.’”
Donovan said his club reached out to Phoenix Rising and the players for both sides decided to halt Wednesday’s match in the 71st minute to join together to unfurl a banner that had that slogan.
"We don’t just want to talk about it, we actually want to do it and we wanted to send a message,” Donovan said.
But then came the incident late in the first half, in which Martin, the former Minnesota United player who is openly gay, allegedly received a homophobic slur by a Phoenix Rising player. Martin was red carded, which the match official later rescinded. Martin informed the fourth official on his way off the field.
On the heels of the original incident a week earlier, Donovan said he “lost it.”
“I know what this team has gone through, how hard it was for them to take the field tonight given everything that happened and then for it happen again, a week later, was just devastating for me,” he said.
Donovan said there were some tense moments in halftime discussions for a San Diego Loyal team that was leading 3-1.
“It was a really difficult probably 20 minutes because our players in the heart of the moment, in the passion of the moment, still wanted to play,” he said. "I mean, they were kicking Phoenix’s ass and that’s a great feeling as a soccer player. … But if we want to be true to who we are as a club, we have to speak and we have to act.”
When they returned for the second half, Donovan asked the official to send off the Phoenix player, but he said he couldn’t because he didn’t know what the phrase meant. Donovan then appealed to Phoenix coach Rick Schantz.
“I just said if you don’t pull the player off the field, if you don’t sub him off, our players are not going to play because we have to make a stand,” Donovan said.
When Donovan said Schantz declined, his players decided to act.
“They made the decision to walk off,” Donovan said. “I have tremendous pride in this group and I’m really proud of this organization that I get to be a part of it.”