San Diego Loyal SC: A non-sports fan’s guide to kicking it at a game
If there’s one thing you can say about fans of the San Diego Loyal Soccer Club , it’s that they’re — well, loyal.
But even if you’re just a casual sports fan — or, if you’re like me, which is less than casual — the SD Loyal wants you to know that you are welcome at its games — and you can still have a ball, even if soccer isn’t your thing.
What is SD Loyal?
The SD Loyal SC was founded in 2019 and officially debuted in 2020. No big deal, but Landon Donovan, probably the most famous American soccer player of our time, is the founder, executive vice president of soccer operations and the head coach of the SD Loyal. He brings a little star power to the team.
Soccer doesn’t appear to be as big in the States as it is in, say, Europe or South America. But in certain pockets of the U.S., soccer has just as much of a following as it does elsewhere. And San Diego, being the melting pot that it is, has a huge, diverse audience of people who love the sport just as much as those other continents do.
Donovan, who grew up playing soccer nearby in Redlands and came to San Diego for games and tournaments, said there are a few things that make this a great soccer town.
“One, more people play and watch soccer, meaning consume total soccer, in San Diego than any other city in the country. Consistently, men’s, women’s, any tournament, game, event, Major League Soccer, etc., San Diego is consistently in the top five of all TV markets. And then there’s a huge youth soccer scene. And all of that combined, or probably because of our close proximity to the border here, makes it a really vibrant soccer town,” he said during a phone interview.
The team currently plays its home games at the University of San Diego’s Torero Stadium. The season ends in October and there are still several home games on the schedule (find it here: sdloyal.com/2021schedule).
I attended a game on July 24, and even though the team lost 0-1 to the Phoenix Rising, I have some pro tips on all things Loyal.
Getting to the game
First things first: You can buy tickets on the team’s website at sdloyal.com or on the SD Loyal app. Ticket prices are pretty reasonable for a professional sporting event, starting at $24 for individual tickets. There are also family packs available, which include four tickets and four food vouchers starting at $20 per ticket.
Parking is free for all ticket-holders. Once at the stadium, you can park at the main structure for general and premium parking, the east structure for preferred season ticket parking and the west structure for general parking. Shuttles are available to cart you to the stadium if you park in the west structure. Don’t want to drive? The San Diego Metropolitan Transit System provides bus service to USD and a special ride share pick-up/drop-off zone is located near the stadium.
Because of COVID-19, the team has initiated safety procedures. Face coverings are optional, but social distancing is encouraged. The games are currently sold at full capacity and groups are encouraged to stand together while in line to enter the stadium or to go through security checks. Fans are asked to stay in their designated seats and avoid congregating in open areas. Also, all tickets are digital and contact-less. No tickets are sold onsite, so plan accordingly.
The SD Loyal institutes a clear bag policy — only clear bags are allowed into the stadium and they cannot be larger than 12" by 6" (basically the size of a one-gallon freezer bag.) I should have been aware of this prior to arrival, but I was not. My bad. A quick run back to the car to ditch my purse and I was on my way.
The main entrance is located on the west side of the stadium. After getting through security and check-in, I headed to an ID check station and got a wrist band to buy alcoholic beverages, specifically the Torero Blue blonde ale. I also grabbed a hot dog, because a game isn’t a game unless hot dogs (and beer) are involved.
Everyone is welcome
The entire stadium is decorated with the Loyal logo, or crest. It is different shades of orange and blue, representing the San Diego sky, land and ocean. On the night I attended, which was Pride night, the logo had been modified to include rainbows.
The team prides itself on inclusivity. Not only was it Pride night, but a huge Black Lives Matter flag hung above one of the stands.
Ricardo Campos, the team’s general manager, explained why inclusivity is important to the team.
“It’s a representation of our community. We need to make (sports) an all-inclusive environment, as it should be. We’re simply a reflection of our community,” he said.
When asked if the team had faced backlash due to this stance, he replied, “Absolutely. With anybody who tries to stand up for anything, you’re going to have some backlash. But the overwhelming support oversees any of the backlash and we’re happy to stand up for it.”
The magic of Section 109
My seat was located in section 109, and I came to find out that section 109 is special. It’s specifically designated for super supporters, the ones who dress up and paint their faces and know all the chants. The section was filled with groups of friends, families and others from all walks of life. These are the supporters who came prepared with flags, cowbells, drums and horns to cheer with during the game.
None of these items are approved to be in the stadium, so I asked Campos how that was allowed. He explained to me that the team coordinates with these supporters prior to the game, inspecting all of the instruments and props they bring in. The passion these fans have is valuable to the team, so they encourage them to display that passion in a safe and coordinated way.
Their excitement is infectious. Before I knew it, I too was caught up in it, too.
“The Loyal fans are committed,” said Sal Zizzo, a San Diego native and a defender on the SD Loyal. “You can count on them every game to be behind that far side goal and be chanting and standing, playing the drums and waving flags at every game. It’s pretty important, as a player, to always have that support, especially in your home stadium,” he said.
The Loyal has a few supporter groups — these aren’t fan clubs. The members like to refer to themselves as supporter groups because they’re not just fans ... they’re super fans.
Steve Brockhoff is a Vista resident who works as an engineer by day. But by night, he’s president of the Locals, the SD Loyal’s recognized supporter group (thelocalssg.com). Other supporter groups include the Chavos de Loyal and the Rainbow Loyals, but the Locals are the biggest supporter group. It has about 400 members and events organized include pre-game hosted tailgates.
“I grew up tailgating at Qualcomm before the Chargers games,” Brockhoff said. “It wasn’t just going to the football game, it was the whole experience. You meet up with your friends and you’re grilling dogs and you’re having beers. It’s a lifestyle. It’s so perfect, the weather’s always great. It was such a part of my childhood and my love for sports. That’s when you become so much bigger than just a fan. That’s when you meet your friends, that’s how you build this culture and community that we’re trying to build.”
Section 109 can get a bit rowdy with all the singing and chanting. I asked Donovan if he ever got distracted by that section while on the field. He laughed and said no, in fact, they feed off that excitement.
“Honestly, it’s been a huge boost because every pro athlete who’s played for a few years pre-COVID is used to that sort of atmosphere in varying degrees. In some stadiums, it’s louder versus others. But after COVID, I think we all forgot how much of an impact energetically those fans have on us,” he said. “And so we won all four of our first home games, and all of them came with late goals. And I really believe we were pushed on by the energy in the stadium. And so that is truly unique to soccer.”
So according to the celebrity coach, the supporters don’t just cheer on the team — they actually help them win games. And that is what soccer is all about, right? Well, yes and no. It’s also about community. It’s about coming together and supporting a cause — in this case, soccer culture in San Diego. And even if you’re not a fan, Donovan wants you to know that you’re still welcome at Torero Stadium.
“Even if you’re not a soccer fan, even if you don’t want to watch soccer the whole time, there’s great food, great beers, the energy and the atmosphere is great,” he said. “And then on the field, we try to do a really good job of having a product that is entertaining for people to watch. So it’s giving yourself an opportunity to experience it. If you don’t like it, don’t come back. But my guess is that you’re going to love the experience.”
San Diego Loyal Soccer Club games
When: Season goes through Oct. 30
Where: Home games are at Torero Stadium, 5998 Alcala Park, University of San Diego
Tickets: $20 to $65
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