SAN DIEGO (CNS) - San Diego Loyal SC is scheduled to begin its second season Friday evening facing Phoenix Rising FC who they forfeited the final game of the 2020 season to after a homophobic slur was directed at one of their players.
The United Soccer League on April 15 announced its Forever Proud Project to reinforce its commitment to social impact and to provide a safe, inclusive space for all fans. Friday night's game in Chandler, Arizona will include several LGBTQ+ inclusivity initiatives.
The teams will come together before the opening kickoff for a moment to show solidarity with the Forever Proud project and sign an inclusivity pledge at halftime. There will be Forever Proud captain's armbands and corner flags based on the six-color rainbow flag.
The armbands and corner flags will be auctioned after the game with proceeds benefiting Phoenix-area LGBTQ organizations.
The league is conducting a "Restorative Justice" program "to create community, understanding, and reconciliation between SD Loyal and Phoenix Rising FC players around the homophobic incident and subsequent walk-off following last year's match."
The teams will partake in a series of individual and combined three- hour sessions over the course of the 2021 season with the goal of moving "beyond the traditional retribution-based narrative around homophobic and racial abuse" and instead "to collectively reflect, reconcile and evolve as individual players clubs, and as a league," according to the second-division men's soccer league.
SD Loyal Chairman Andrew Vassiliadis said Friday's game at Phoenix Rising at Wild Horse Pass stadium "provides a healing opportunity for Collin (Martin), our players and the LGBTQ+ community."
"We're grateful and proud that the league and Phoenix Rising are listening, educating, and taking action alongside us," Vassiliadis said. "Our collective efforts will help us be better organizations and better community partners going forward."
Then-Phoenix Rising FC forward Junior Flemmings directed a homophobic slur at Martin, a gay SD Loyal midfielder, late in the first half Sept. 30. SD Loyal players walked off the field at Torero Stadium at the start of the second half leading 3-1 and forfeited the game, ending their chances of qualifying for the playoffs.
Flemmings was suspended by USL for six games, covering the entire 2020 playoffs. He will serve the final two games of the suspension to start the 2021 season.
The USL's 2020 leading goal-scorer was not re-signed by Phoenix Rising after his contract expired Nov. 30. He signed with the USL's Birmingham Legion in January.
"Coming off the ending of last season, I'm happy for Junior to continue his impressive career in the USL," Martin said. "Personally, I didn't want Junior's career to end, but more importantly that we learn as players and as a society to be respectful of our differences.
"I'm optimistic that we will be better because of this and that Junior will help advocate for respect within our game."