SAFC (1-0-1) hosted the Swope Park Rangers (2-0-1) Saturday Night in front of a sold-out crowd who were absolutely frenzied in their support for a side who had yet to christen its home stadium.
Swope Park (SPR) started the half with a long pass deep into SAFC territory, and followed it with an offenseive push which ultimately resulted in a nice challenge from forward Greg Cochrane that gave SPR their first corner of the game. That try was defended, but gave SPR another corner which sent the ball into a heavliy-defended box, took an unlucky bounce off of forward Jason Johnson, and landed at the feet of SPR forward Daniel Salloi who had an easy put in among the confusion for the first score of the match. Sobering though it was, it was going to take a lot more than an early fortunate goal to shake the focus of the home team or dampen the energy of its legion of fans.
SAFC wasted no time in getting back on task, re-establishing solidarity on the defensive end and beginning to piece together focused attacks on offense. As SPR appeared to try and control the pace and possession, defenders McBride, Moseley, Palacios, and McCarthy picked up where they left off week 1 not allowing much if any opportunity past midfield. Midfielder Rafa Castillo again looked poised, connecting with Cochrane on SPR’s right side more than once, exhibiting tremendous accuracy and touch on the ball and helping to maintain offensive pressure. Not long after, in the 22nd minute, in what was to be a pre-cursor of the chippiness that built up throughout the rest of the game, SPR midfielder Ualefi Rodrigues dos Reis knocked down Castillo resulting in a free kick from SPR’s left side that was an absolute blast straight on goal that served to give goalie Jon Kempin a wake up call and electrify an already raucous crowd. What followed was a flurry of SAFC chances all resulting in near misses. Johnson found himself closing on the SPR box in the 26th minute, easily losing a defender, shooting hard on goal, and sending the ball bouncing off Kempin’s face. Less than a minute later, an airborne Johnson very-nearly scored with a beautiful acrobatic shot. Finally, defender Stephen McCarthy got into the act as well, heading it towards the goal off a Castillo free kick, but missed high.
Following SPR possessions were met with imposing defensive performances, most notably that of McCarthy, who remained a physical presence throughout the night, and Palacios, who continued to show his versatility. At one point midfielder Michael Reed found Palacios on a deep run, who passed to a wide open Danny Garcia. Although he wasn’t able to convert, Garcia continued to show a knack for being in the right place at the right time. Minutes later Reed won a header at midfield, where a waiting Rafa Castillo was there to regain control and pass it to midfielder Carlos Alvarez who played it off to Johnson and continued his run, only to get it back from Johnson and find the ever-present Garcia who sent it home in the 41st minute for the first home goal in SAFC history.
The second half saw SAFC continue to play as physical as the refs would allow, beginning to forge an intimidating style of defense that was not unappreciated by the fans. Sharp passing and well-timed runs allowed for multiple forays into the heart of the SPR defense, some of which needed refs and fouls to be denied. On one such offensive, Forward Shawn Chin (who came in for Garcia in the 54th minute) was very-questionably called offside in what looked to be a golden scoring opportunity. And shortly thereafter Johnson broke free toward goal only to be pulled down by his jersey by SPR defender Tommy Meyer, resulting in a yellow card.
The half continued to be characterized by crisp, accurate passing on the part of SAFC midfielders and physical play from its defenders, allowing for its fair share of scoring chances, none of which, unfortunately, found the net. The lone SPR scoring threat came when a potentially dangerous 3 v 3 opportunity was cut short by a handball.
The 1-1 final means that our club remains undefeated, and although 3 points would have been nice to put on the board, 1 will do just fine coming against a solid SPR squad. SAFC travel to Los Angeles Wednesday to take on La Galaxy II (2-0-1), who are currently atop the Western Conference standings, but are coming off a 1-1 tie vs Orange County FC (0-2-1).