Image: Steve Aibel, Pitch Black News/Little Orca Sports
(For a thorough and in-depth look at SAFC one-third of the way through their inaugural season, see Kyle Mahnke’s review of the season so far. The following article is meant to reflect on the first third with an eye toward what those involved with the club think about the season so far and why SAFC is in a better place than you might think.)
San Antonio FC, one-third of the way through their maiden season, currently sits in 12th place in the United Soccer League’s western conference. That puts them four places behind OKC Energy FC, the team occupying the last playoff spot.
While SAFC is currently outside the playoff picture in terms of position, they’re only three points off that eighth and final spot. When you remember how quickly this team was thrown together over the last few months, you have to admit you weren’t expecting anything too spectacular. Especially at the start of the season, the players should be expected to struggle a bit, finding their feet and figuring out how to work together as harmoniously as possible.
Excuses aside though, the team knows there’s room for improvement.
“(Our season so far) is decent for a first-year team, but we want to do better,” said Darren Powell, SAFC head coach. “I think all the players in that locker room will agree that we can improve on our performances.”
Despite a degree of underperformance, Powell praised his team’s ability to be competitive in every game. He cites the team’s growing camaraderie, character and workrate as factors in their ability to always have a chance at getting some sort of result. He also admits that any newly-formed team will take time to starting clicking as a team.
Powell’s assessment that the team can do better is definitely true though. Defensively, the team has typically been solid so far this year and has the fourth-best defense in their conference when it comes to goals allowed per match.
However, they’ve also made occasional defensive blunders which have cost them points. Those momentary lapses of concentration could prove to be critical when all is said and done. SAFC would hate to barely miss the playoffs, look back at multiple games and wonder “what if…”
Offensively, the team has left more to be desired so far than the defense. As both Powell and forward Shawn Chin admitted at practice earlier this week, the chances just aren’t being converted – there are plenty there, but they’re being wasted.
Anyone who’s watched SAFC consistently this year knows they have a talented attack, but that attack has missed countless opportunities. They currently sit tied for ninth place in their conference in terms of goals scored per match.
When you look at some of those stats – fourth-best defense and ninth-best offense in their conference – things don’t seem to add up for the twelfth-best team. If you’ve listened to Pitch Black’s podcast this season though, you know that the consensus is that SAFC just isn’t catching breaks and are dropping points in tight games they should be getting more out of.
At this point though, it’s not so much about what San Antonio has done so far – that’s in the past – it’s about what they’ll do in the remaining two-thirds of the season.
“We’ve put (this first third of the season) behind us, we’ve learned what we need to do and we’re moving forward,” Chin said.
If SAFC can weed out the defensive lapses and the missed chances, then they’ll start getting better results and moving up the table. It’s been a slow start for the team results-wise, and they’re not exactly where they want to be in the table, but where they’re at right now is fine.
In fact, you may even be able to argue this is right where SAFC planned to be all along: not exactly hitting their stride yet, but progressing as the season wore on.
After he was named head coach back in January, Powell seemed fine with a slow start to the season, as long as the team was growing along the way, which they arguably are. Nobody can expect a bunch of strangers, no matter how talented, to instantly click as a team and get results.
“Hopefully the team will progress with each game and get better throughout the season, so by the end of the year we’re firing on all cylinders,” Powell said.
Thanks to the playoff system used in the USL, that kind of approach can reap serious benefits down the road, provided the team does well enough to make the playoffs in the first place.
Powell won’t say he and the team are happy with where they are – why would they? – but in a sense, they’re right where they want and need to be, growing as a team with every game. They’re a group of talented individuals, so once they start gelling as a team, getting results and moving up the table, anything is possible.
“If we can get to the playoffs at the end of the year, who knows what happens,” Powell said with a wry smile.