USMNT’s DeAndre Yedlin buys ownership stake in USL’s San Diego Loyal

United States men’s national team defender DeAndre Yedlin has joined the ownership group of the San Diego Loyal of the USL Championship, the club announced Thursday.

Yedlin told ESPN he was drawn to the Loyal after seeing the second-division club take stands against racist and anti-gay language directed toward two of its players in a pair of games in 2020.

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In the midst of a playoff push late in its debut season, the Loyal asked the league to forfeit a 1-1 draw with the LA Galaxy II after learning player Elijah Martin was targeted with a racist slur during the match, then walked off the field the following game against Phoenix Rising in protest after an anti-gay slur was directed at Collin Martin, who is openly gay.

“The fact that a professional sports club decided to forfeit a game and potentially lose a playoff spot because of issues that I believe are above sport was huge to me,” Yedlin said.

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San Diego Loyal midfielder Collin Martin goes in depth on allyship, inclusivity and the path forward in USL.

Shortly after the Loyal forfeited the game against Phoenix, Yedlin, through his agent, made contact with representatives of the club and opened up communications with chairman Andrew Vassiliadis, president and CEO Warren Smith and manager Landon Donovan.

“We had great conversations,” Yedlin said. “My values and morals, both on and off the field, matched with theirs. So I think for both of us it was a good match. It happened pretty organically and naturally. I was fortunate that they accepted me to be part of their club.”

Terms of Yedlin’s financial stake were not made available.

“DeAndre’s path through his own career is how we want to amplify [our message] and what we want to exemplify for our players,” Vassiliadis said. “For our front office: put your best foot forward, challenge yourself at the highest level and compete. That’s what we kind of do here and that’s how I see DeAndre adds value. It’s just a great add for the club.”

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Landon Donovan explains why San Diego Loyal left the field after an alleged anti-gay slur toward his player.

USL has seen a number of high-profile athletes join ownership groups in recent years, but Yedlin is a unique case because at the age of 27, he remains in the prime of his athletic career. Former USMNT goalkeeper Tim Howard was at the tail-end of his storied career when he joined the ownership group of fellow USL Championship side Memphis 901, while DaMarcus Beasley was a year into his retirement last year when he acquired a minority stake in Fort Wayne FC, which will play its first-ever game Sunday as a member of USL League Two.

The Oakland Roots recently announced former NFL running back Marshawn Lynch had joined their ownership group ahead of their debut season in the USL Championship.

Yedlin said he wants to be involved with the club as much as possible — he is working on a clothing line and wants to help the club with its apparel — but there are obvious limitations with what he can do while he’s still playing.

“I think I can offer a different perspective to the business side,” he said. “I’m obviously a current player, so it’s a very unique position to be able to offer that perspective to guys who are making some big decisions that they wouldn’t have noticed before as they’re not former players.”

In January, Yedlin transferred from Newcastle United in the English Premier League to Galatasaray in the Turkish Super Lig and helped the club secure a berth in the Champions League qualifying stage. Galatasaray finished tied atop the table with Besiktas on points, but lost the league title on goal differential.

“I had a great time in Newcastle,” Yedlin said. “Obviously, it gave me a very good platform to showcase myself on and I just felt in that [transfer] window there wasn’t a whole lot of clarity as to whether they wanted me to stay where they wanted me to go and for me to stay I felt in my heart that it was probably the right time to move on.

“Turkey was always someplace that I was interested in. They opportunity came up with Galatasaray, which was a massive team, they offer a chance for Champions League every year.”

Yedlin will join the USMNT ahead of a May 30 friendly against Switzerland and is on the provisional squad for the upcoming Nations League tournament on June 3-6. He plans to spend some time around the Loyal in San Diego during the summer, where the club is in the early stages of an ambitious project.

“That’s to build a franchise that is ultimately a pinnacle of soccer in North American,” said Smith, who co-founded the Sacramento Republic in 2012.

When the Loyal was founded, Sacramento was well on its way to becoming Major League Soccer’s 30th team, but since lead investor Ron Burkle dropped out in February year, the league has prioritized other cities with San Diego being one of them.

MLS commissioner Don Garber name-checked San Diego as a possible location, along with Phoenix and Las Vegas, prior to the start of the 2021 MLS season in April. It’s unclear how San Diego stacks up against the other two cities or how the timing will impact the Loyal’s ability to put together a competitive bid to join MLS.

“We made a commitment to the USL and at the time — keeping in mind I had a pretty good familiarity with Sacramento — it sounded like everything was a go [for Sacramento in MLS] and all of a sudden, it wasn’t,” Smith said. “So we thought we had a really good six years to build before we would really even consider something of that nature.”

Currently, the Loyal plays at 6,000-seat Torero Stadium on the campus of the University of San Diego, which only works as a short-term home. To meet the club’s needs in USL over the long run, Smith said, they would require a 12,000-15,000 seat stadium.

“Fortunately, San Diego State is in the process of building a new football stadium that has a lot of soccer design elements,” Smith said. “The lower bowl is about 18,000 seats and from a USL standpoint, we can make that work.”

San Diego has started the 2021 season with three straight losses and will look to get back on track Saturday at Louisville City FC (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN+).

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