The pressure is starting to take a toll on some teams as the race to the postseason heats up. One team that’s managing just fine? First-year side San Diego Loyal SC. Here’s your Morning Tea for Tuesday.
Whichever teams advance to the 2020 USL Championship Playoffs from Group B, it’s hard not to be impressed with what San Diego Loyal SC has been able to accomplish in its inaugural season.
It’s built a strong foundation with what’s proven to be a reliable defense and has worked astutely to strengthen its squad for the stretch run. The personnel it has brought aboard has given it a legitimate Golden Glove contender in Jon Kempin – on loan from Columbus Crew SC – whose goals-against average is now 0.44 and save percentage is 85.7% after back-to-back shutouts last week.
The club has also gone out and brought in attacking reinforcements that shone in the past week, with Miguel Berry, Alejandro Guido and Rubio Rubin having all found the scoresheet since arriving.
The reason that might not be enough for SD Loyal to reach the postseason at the first time of asking? Well, a lot of that has to do with the rest of Group B. First, you’ve got Phoenix Rising FC, which even with some of the bumps in the road this season is still one of the leading candidates to lift the trophy at the USL Championship Final.
Then you’ve got two teams in Orange County SC and the LA Galaxy II, both playoff teams a year ago and still right in the mix. That’s meant a real trial by fire for the new boys, who’ve had to prove their own credentials game-in and game-out all season while coming together as a squad.
“Every game is like a playoff game because of the quality of our group,” said SD Loyal Head Coach Landon Donovan on Sunday. “I’ve said from the beginning this is the best group in the league – there’s no question about that – and every game means a lot and every game is difficult. But I’m proud of our guys for going through a bad stretch where we lost three in a row and then getting two hard-fought draws on the road and putting back-to-back wins together.”
Those back-to-back wins? They came at the expense of the Galaxy II last Wednesday and Orange County on Sunday, reversing defeats to those same foes earlier this season. It means SD Loyal is for the moment in that second playoff place in the group, although with the odds still against it thanks to Los Dos holding two games in hand and OCSC one, and a remaining schedule that sees San Diego face Rising FC twice in its last three outings.
That said, is it too far-fetched to think San Diego might have a chance at this thing? Los Dos have been up and down game-to-game, and Orange County is in a three-game slump of its own that it needs to break, fast. After SD Loyal fell 2-0 to Phoenix when the sides first met earlier this season, Saturday night’s game at Casino Arizona Field feels like maybe the most interesting of the upcoming week, and certainly a litmus test for how far Donovan’s side has come.
“It’s not going to be easy,” said Donovan, “but we’ve put ourselves in a position now where we control our destiny if we were to win out. We’re right in the thick of it now.”
- You already knew the format for the 2020 USL Championship Playoffs, but on Monday finalized details for the schedule and more were confirmed by the league. Most notably, there will be a four-day minimum of rest between games after each round, and any game that needs to be rescheduled must be made up within 48 hours.
- As someone who’s been there and won that, Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC Head Coach Bob Lilley has a feel for what he thinks he has in his squad, and he thinks the postseason-bound Hounds have a shot at making a run. “We’ve gotten better and better as the season has gone along and we’ve learned a lot of hard lessons along the way,” Lilley said after Saturday’s 5-0 win against Hartford Athletic. “I feel like we’ve improved a lot in managing games.”
- The Charlotte Independence are rolling toward their first USL Championship Playoffs berth since 2017 after extending their winning streak to three games with a victory against Birmingham Legion FC on Saturday night. The Charlotte Post’s Ashley Mahoney has more on how things are all coming together at the right moment for the Jacks.
- Louisville City FC regained top spot in Group E on Saturday night with another impressive display. To stay there, it’s going to require more of the same against Indy Eleven on Wednesday night with the LIPAFC rivals separated by a point with four games to go in the season. The Louisville Courier-Journal’s Jonathan Saxon has more.
- With six goals and four assists so far in his first season at the club, Amando Moreno has quickly fit into the New Mexico United lineup. KOB's Brandon Ortega and Derek Woody looked at his performance as United defeated Real Monarchs SLC to move one win from clinching a place in the 2020 USL Championship Playoffs on Saturday.