With Sacramento Republic FC set to begin their 2021 USL Championship season on Friday, we’re previewing all their main competition for the season, across the Pacific Division. Next up, San Diego Loyal, and to get us geared up I called in Alan Underwood, who is a co-host of the Fair Weather Pod, which covers SD Loyal. Many thanks to Alan for his insights below!
Key players out: Rubio Rubin, Miguel Berry, Jon Kempin, Tarek Morad
Key players in: Corey Hertzog, Jack Blake, Trey Muse, Niki Jackson, Thomas Vancaeyezeele
Head coach: Landon Donovan, 2nd season.
What changes did San Diego make in the offseason and how might that affect the team for the coming season?
With the departure of stand out stars Rubio Rubin, Miguel Berry, and Jon Kempin, SD went out and got Jack Blake, Corey Hertzog, Niki Jackson, and loanee Trey Muse. The hope that those pieces can fit into an offense that went toe to toe with Phoenix at the end of last season. It seems as if the team wants to function the same way they did last year, so we will have to see if Trey Muse can come close to Kempin’s output. The center of the back three will be anchored by Thomas Vancaeyezeele and he has been reported to look very good on the back line during preseason. The tough part for Landon Donavan and team is how do all of these new additions fit into the returning core. San Diego will probably play with a very similar system to last season, so look for them to try and hold possession and dictate tempo, while also being a tough team to break down on the defensive side as well.
I will admit I was a bit skeptical about Landon Donovan as head coach initially, but he seems to have been the right man for the first season. What are the general opinions of him around the fanbase and will he be able to push the team to greater heights this season on the field?
Landon Donovan would probably be considered a “players coach”, and who wouldn’t run through walls for someone who has the type of pedigree that Donovan has on the pitch. He managed to surround himself with a very smart coaching staff to address what he probably feels is his weakness. The way he works with assistant coach Nate Miller is a big part of the success as far as people on the outside looking in can tell. Nate Miller is a soccer junkie. He has been teased about watching every throw-in from some random third division somewhere in Europe looking for an edge. While a lot of credit does go to Coach Donovan, I think he’d be the first to admit that he is just one piece of a pretty good coaching staff. He for sure has the faith of the locker room as well as the supporters, and that plays a huge role in your success as a coach. The buy-in is real and we saw some of that product toward the tail end of the first season. This season will be a good test to see how adaptive he is as a coach, so another big test is on his way.
And finally, what are the realistic expectations for San Diego Loyal for the 2021 season? They’re once again in a tough division.
It’s hard to pinpoint a realistic expectation, as preseason matches are hard to come by and everyone has been so secretive. I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibilities that 4 of the top 10 teams in the USL are all in the pacific division. There will be a good team that doesn’t make the playoffs, much like OC and SD last year in Group B. Some people have them as high as second in the division, challenging Phoenix for the top of the group. I think they have a lot to prove before I put them in that group. I would say that a reasonable expectation for this young team is a playoff spot. If they get a home match in the playoffs, it’ll be a bonus (that I will gladly take), but I think 3rd or 4th is a reasonable expectation for a coach who is unproven and a team that has only had one season to try stuff out. A homer would say they are winning the group, but I just don’t see it yet. I hope they prove me wrong, but they are going to be in a fight with OC, Sacramento, and Los Dos for those other three spots.
What do you think? Leave a comment below.