SAN DIEGO -- The USL Championship soccer match between Phoenix Rising FC and San Diego Loyal SC ended in forfeit after Loyal Head Coach Landon Donovan pulled his squad off the pitch as the second half began on Wednesday night at Torero Stadium.
Details were still coming in late Wednesday but Donovan and Loyal left the field after Phoenix Rising's Junior Flemmings allegedly used a homophobic slur against San Diego's Collin Martin, who is openly gay. At the time, Loyal was leading the match 3-1 and still fighting for a spot in the playoffs.
In the first half a member of Phoenix Rising used a homophobic slur directed at Collin Martin. In response we have decided to walk off the pitch in protest.— San Diego Loyal (@SanDiegoLoyal) October 1, 2020
Near the end of the first half with Loyal up two goals, Martin was red carded after referee Joseph Salinas thought Martin was the one who had allegedly uttered the slur. Donovan was openly walking on the pitch which leads to an automatic red card for the coach.
A long discussion ensued between Salinas, Donovan and Rising Head Coach Rick Schantz. Salinas also consulted with his other three officials and the red card against Martin was eventually rescinded.
After halftime, Loyal players returned to the field and Donovan was issued his red card. Before the whistle blew, San Diego players all went to one knee then left the pitch and congregated under a large tent.
The league issued the following statement:
“We are aware of the alleged use of a homophobic slur in tonight’s match between San Diego Loyal SC and Phoenix Rising FC. Foul and abusive language of any type has absolutely no place in our society and will not be tolerated in USL matches. An investigation is currently underway to determine the facts surrounding the incident and more information will be provided as soon as it is available.”
Flemmings, the league's leading goal scorer with 14 this season, tweeted his own statement, stating "this evening in our match against San Diego Loyal I was accused of making a homophobic slur towards a San Diego Loyal player. This accusation is false and my fellow teammates will support my claim.
"The referee admitted he did not hear any homophobic slurs and was utterly confused by the situation," Flemmings continued. "At no point did I say a homophobic slur toward Collin Martin. I do not know Collin personally, but I respect all of my opponents equally, Collin included...I stand in solidarity with the LGBTQ+ movement."
On Thursday morning, Martin posted this statement on his personal Twitter account:
My statement on what happened in last nights match. The response that followed from my coaches, teammates, and the entire @SanDiegoLoyal organization was truly moving. They had my back and wanted to make a statement that we aren’t going to stand for this hate in our game. pic.twitter.com/yhTxeL2XkC— Collin Martin (@martcw12) October 1, 2020
It is unclear what, if any, action the league might take against Phoenix Rising and/or Flemmings. Late Thursday, the official league website did not list the final result on its score page. The schedule page listed the match as "AB" -- abandoned.
Phoenix Rising issued the following statement after the match:
In addition, Schantz tweeted this from his personal Twitter account:
A week earlier, Loyal endured a similar situation when since-released Omar Ontiveros -- then with LA Galaxy II -- used a racial slur against San Diego's Elijah Martin. At that point, Donovan promised to pull his team off the field if anything similar happened again.
Days later, Donovan delivered on his promise.
If the result stands, Phoenix moves to 10-3-2, wins Group B with 32 points and is still alive to finish first in the Western Conference. San Diego finishes its inaugural season 6-5-5 while LA Galaxy II nabs the other postseason spot from the group.
Ironically, Phoenix and San Diego had planned to stop the match at the 71st minute in a show of solidarity against racism.
But the match never got that far.