The United Soccer League’s San Diego Loyal were true to their name and will not make this year’s playoffs in part because of a decision to stand by one of their teammates and forfeit a game in his defense.
The Loyal forfeited a Sept. 30 game against the Phoenix Rising because a homophobic slur was directed at openly gay Loyal midfielder Collin Martin.
The decision to forfeit has consequences, including knocking the Loyal out of the playoffs and possibly giving Phoenix home-field advantage in the USL title game on Nov. 1.
The USL will hold its Eastern and Western Conference finals on Saturday. If the Rising win their game, they would host the title game in part because of the three points they earned due to the Loyal’s forfeit.
Phoenix hasn’t gone unpunished for the incident. Rising forward Junior Flemmings was suspended for the remainder of the season for the use of foul and abusive language. In addition, Phoenix placed coach Rick Shantz on administrative leave.
The Rising has won their first two playoff games under interim coach Blair Gavin.
As a result of the forfeit, the San Diego Loyal missed the playoffs.
"Our guys, to their immense credit, just said, 'We're not going to stand for this,'" San Diego Loyal coach and former U.S. national team star Landon Donovan said about his team's decision to forfeit, according to the USA Today. "They were very clear in that moment that they were giving up all hopes of making the playoffs, even though they were beating one of the best teams in the league, handily. But they said that doesn't matter. There's things more important in life and we have to stick up for what we believe in. And so they made the decision to walk off.
"The players, in the heart of the moment, in the passion of the moment, still wanted to play. 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."
Donovan said that his team would have been willing to finish the game had the referee or Schantz removed Flemmings from the game. Neither obliged, and the San Diego Loyal officially forfeited with a 3-1 lead.