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San Diego pro soccer team walks off field after alleged homophobic slur

San Diego Loyal and Las Vegas Lights players come onto the field before their soccer game last March at Torero Stadium
San Diego Loyal and Las Vegas Lights players come onto the field before their soccer game last March at Torero Stadium.
(Denis Poroy)

The San Diego Loyal didn’t wait until after the game to forfeit this time.

The second-division soccer club walked off the field at halftime Wednesday night leading 3-1 after Loyal midfielder Collin Martin, an openly gay player, was allegedly called a homophobic slur by a member of Phoenix Rising who later denied it.

This comes a week after the Loyal asked to forfeit a 1-1 tie at Los Angeles Galaxy II because a Black defender Elijah Martin was called a racial slur in the 71st minute. There were questions whether the USL Championship would grant the request, and the point has not been deducted from the standings on the league’s website – nor did the Loyal deduct it in its pre-game notes for Wednesday’s game.

The league won’t have any choice this time, however, and it ended the Loyal’s chance at finishing in the top two of Group B and qualifying for the 16-team playoff tournament.

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The Loyal players returned to the field at USD’s Torero Stadium for the second half and immediately took a knee when the referee blew his whistle to start. Then they stood and walked off en masse.

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The referee ruled it a forfeit and declared Phoenix Rising the winner shortly after.

The incident occurred in first-half injury time, shortly after Rubio Rubin had given the Loyal a 3-1 lead on a free kick from the top of the box. A ball was played into the Loyal defense, and Martin appeared to collide with Phoenix midfielder Junior Flemmings and exchanged words.

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The referee stopped play and initially gave Martin a straight red card, explaining to players that “I heard something.”

After consulting with an assistant referee, he said he “misunderstood” and rescinded the red card. Instead, he gave one to Loyal coach Landon Donovan for coming onto the field before the half had ended.

The telecast also showed Donovan arguing with Phoenix Rising coach Rick Schantz, then saying: “(Someone) called Collin gay. I can’t go through this (expletive) again, man.” Donovan later said he offered to play the second half if Schantz subbed out Flemmings.

Late Wednesday night, Flemmings, who is from Jamaica, issued a statement via Twitter denying he said anything offensive:

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“This accusation is false and my fellow teammates will support my claim ... At no point did I say a homophobic slur towards Collin Martin. I do not know Collin personally, but I respect all of my opponents equally, Collin included.

“I am disappointed in San Diego’s actions this evening as I have been mauled and ridiculed online with no opportunity to defend myself ... I stand in solidarity with the LGBTQ+ movement.”

Phoenix Rising leads Group B and had already clinched a playoff berth. The Loyal entered the day tied with Galaxy II in second place at 23 points but would lose the tiebreaker based on head-to-head matchups during the season. Orange County was third at 21.

But Galaxy II beat Orange County 3-1 on Wednesday in Carson, giving it 26 points and clinching Group B’s other playoff spot with one game remaining. The Loyal’s inaugural season is over.

“Last week we made it loud and clear that we do not stand for racism and homophobia,” the team’s Twitter feed said. “Nothing has changed this week.”

Updates:

11:00 AM, Oct. 01, 2020: Story updated to include statement from Phoenix midfielder Junior Flemmings.


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