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Fans, coach Landon Donovan return to pitch for USL relaunch

(AP) — Fans get to watch U.S. pro team sports in person for the first time in four months when Landon Donovan resumes his fledgling coaching career in a United Soccer League match.

Due to social distancing rules, only about a quarter of the 20,000 seats at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah, will be available Saturday for the game between Donovan’s expansion San Diego Loyal and the defending USL champion Real Monarchs SLC.

While it’s a step toward normalcy, Donovan is OK that ticket sales will be capped at about 5,300.

“I don’t think it’ll change anything from our standpoint,” said the former U.S. national team and MLS star, who is two games into his coaching career. ” If you think about stadiums, the noise and home-field advantage comes from people sitting next to each other making noise. If they’re spread out in a 20,000-seat stadium, it’s not that daunting.”

Donovan’s first coaching win came in an empty stadium when the Loyal won 2-1 at Tacoma on March 11, right before the coronavirus pandemic shut down sports around the world.

“It was strange. Very strange,” Donovan said. “It was an interesting experience. It was weird because usually when you play without fans, it’s a preseason game or one that has no meaning. You walk out of the tunnel and it was bizarre. You just have to adapt.”

Donovan is eager to find out what his team will look like on the pitch after the long layoff followed by a gradual resumption in training. The Loyal will wear alternate kit with “Black Lives Matter” on the back of the jerseys.

“I think eager is a massive understatement,” Donovan said. “This has been a long haul for everyone. We do keep it in perspective, because it could be a lot worse. But this is what we do for a living and it makes us happy and subsequently it makes other people happy. We’ve been waiting for this day for a long time and our guys are really excited.”

San Diego is 1-1-0.

“That’s great, but my focus is more on the process,” Donovan said. This is a long-term project for me and the club. I don’t want to get too caught up in early results. We’re trying to go on a journey where we get someplace meaningful. The results help, don’t get me wrong, and we want to win. I’m more focused on performance and the process.”

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