The game was between Donovan's San Diego Loyal and Phoenix Rising, and forfeiting it cost the Loyal a spot in the playoffs.
Just before halftime Wednesday night, the Loyal were leading 3-1, but an incident between Loyal's openly gay midfielder Collin Martin and Rising player Junior Flemmings brought the game to a halt.
Martin said Flemmings used a Jamaican homophobic slur during the game. Martin said it's the first time any player has used that sort of terminology toward him during a game.
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
The Loyal said in a statement that players and coaches heard the slur, but the match referees did nothing about it.
Flemmings denies that he said it.
"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."
Either way, the referee actually gave a Red Card (which in soccer results in an ejection) to Martin. Donovan stormed the field, and after some heated words with the referee and Rising coach Rick Schantz, Donovan and his team walked off the field.
Had the Loyal continued with Wednesday night's match and won, there was a good chance they would have made the playoffs.
Now, their season is over.
"I know there's a sentiment that, 'Oh, it's just a word, it's not a big deal,'" Donovan added. "But my problem is, I sat in the locker room last night and watched Collin Martin with his head in his hands for 30 minutes, I mean, really heartbroken by all of this. Forget about, yes, the slur, yes, how everyone responded. You have to remember, he also feels bad because we now forfeited a game because of something that happened to him. He wants to play. He's playing the best soccer of his life. He feels bad about that, too. He didn't do anything. That's a real human life that is being impacted."
Donovan said he felt walking off the field had more impact that beating Phoenix on the scoreboard.
"The problem is that the only way you make change is by doing something drastic," he said.
Some leaders in the LGBTQ community are praising the team's decision to forfeit the game.
When the Loyal resumed play in July after the pandemic shutdown, the players wore alternate jerseys with "Black Lives Matter" on the back.
Donovan was unsure of any recourse from the league office and said he didn't care if any was forthcoming. "No. Not in the slightest," he said.
The United Soccer League said in a statement that it is investigating what happened and that "abusive language of any type has absolutely no place in our society and will not be tolerated in USL matches."
The league also said every owner, executive, player and staff member will undergo comprehensive sensitivity training ahead of the 2021 season, and that it is working with the players association and the USL Black Players Association to implement more severe punishments for anyone found to have used foul and abusive language.