It started with a series of presentations at Toyota Field announcing Spurs Sports and Entertainment would bring a United Soccer League franchise to the city, and that Tim Holt and Darren Powell would be the men tasked with building the club from the ground up.
Almost six months later, San Antonio FC (2-4-4) is one third of the way through its first regular season and has been successful in its only U.S. Open Cup (1-0) match this year. Gone are almost all of the remnants of the Scorpions franchise, with only a handful of seats needing to be swapped out on Toyota Field’s west stand. The number of fans wearing SAFC gear at games far exceeds those still wearing their Scorpions jerseys, though I’m sure its with the best intentions of supporting the city’s highest-division soccer club and rarely a silent protest of the collapse of the NASL franchise. San Antonio FC is carving out its own place in the city’s culture, through magnet giveaways or hosting various organizations at home matches. Things like this take time and an established vision of for what the club stands. Twenty years of success have made their basketball sibling-club a facet of San Antonio culture, a blueprint SAFC will undoubtably want to follow.
SAFC has an established club, front office and roster. Toyota Field is broken in and their own home. Ten league matches and one U.S. Open Cup match have been played. So now we ask, what do we know about this team so far?
I can’t imagine that 10 points through 10 games is what anyone involved with the club wanted coming into the season, but it could also be a whole lot worse. Through their first 10 games, the results look like this:
Ten games down, twenty to go. So far San Antonio FC has played half of their league games at home. Even being mostly optimistic about this team, I’ll concede that its not an encouraging start on paper. Still, the situation could be worse if the club had a schedule like Seattle Sounders 2 who opened the season with eight of their first ten games at home with only one win to show of it.
San Antonio FC currently sits in 12th place of 15 in the West. The table is very tight below the top 3 teams. Knowing that the top eight teams of each conference make the playoffs its way too early to worry too much about standings, but it is something worth checking-in on as the season progresses.
If you’re looking for a team who is going to score 7 goals each game, San Antonio FC isn’t for you (though I think they have the personnel to do so). Head Coach Darren Powell’s squad plays a very tight defense that demands everyone to pull their weight on both sides of the ball. As shown in the table above, SAFC is 4th in goals allowed in the West and the only team under 8th place with a positive goal differential. The club has generated two clean sheets this season and has never conceded more than 1 goal in a game with captain and starting keeper Josh Ford on the field.
The club’s success begins and ends with Ford, but the backline is filled with experience. Center back and Native Texan Stephen McCarthy returned home from playing in the top division of Finland. Fullback / winger Greg Cochrane came most recently from MLS. Fellow fullbacks Milton Palacios and Max Gunderson played for the Scorpions and Austin Aztex respectively. Fullback Bobby Moseley is on loan from Stoke City of the English Premier League. In short, the defense is loaded with experience.
In addition to the back four, Powell typically plays two or three defensive and holding midfielders. Michael Reed and Rafa Castillo are among the most experienced players on the team and typically shine in the role.
The biggest success defensively is the contribution by the club’s less-experienced players. Two rookies, center back Sam McBride and defensive midfielder Miggy Salazar, have been absolutely key in the success the club’s defense has enjoyed so far.
What the results don’t accurately show is how dangerous this club can be on the attack. The midfield / forward consisting of a mix between Carlos Alvarez, Jason Johnson, Manolo Sanchez, Danny Garcia, Shawn Chin, Victor Araujo, Greg Cochrane, Bobby Moseley, Jaques Francois, and Fejiro Okiomah is at times absolutely frightening to opposing defenses. The club is extremely good at creating chances, whether crosses from Cochrane or driving it in the middle from Alvarez. They genuinely have just not had good luck with 50/50 situations, with shots hitting the crossbar, taking bad bounces, or a defender being in the right place at the right time. If the attack gets a little luck their way in this next section of the season, we could see 2-3 goals scored more consistently without many adjustments.
See Jonathan Check’s post about the budding RGV rivalry for more detail, but I think it goes without saying that there is already a rivalry between SAFC and RGV. We also play OKC Energy and Arizona United several times this season, so keep an eye out on those games.
Short version: it’s great for USL and will grow if San Antonio is awarded an MLS franchise.
Long version: it’s not a sellout every game like Sacramento. It’s not the 20 thousand average that Cincinnati is drawing. But with the most recent data I can find, San Antonio is third in the entire USL in attendance and that’s something of which to be proud. There’s room for improvement obviously but until SAFC is playing higher quality opponents, or at least opponents that people have heard of before, crowds of 4-6 thousand are pretty solid for a first year club that’s struggling for wins.
So, What Do We Know?
Well, we know that we have a front office in San Antonio that cares about this club, wants it to grow and succeed in USL and U.S. Open Cup, and wants to take it up to MLS. We know SAFC has a head coach who cares about those things as well and isn’t afraid to give younger guys a shot. We know there’s a market for professional soccer in San Antonio, win lose or draw.
We know that the SAFC roster is capable of winning games when the squad is clicking. We know Josh Ford and the defense is solid as can be. We know Rafa still has a lot left in the tank. We know that the younger guys are ready to contribute straight out of college.
Most importantly, we know that there is still a lot of time left in the season. While it’s good to step back and reflect on what we’ve seen so far, perspective is key. So let’s enjoy two of my favorite moments so far: the first home goal via Danny Garcia (above) and Jaques Francois’ box to box goal from the 2nd round of the USOC.