Image: Steve Aibel, Pitch Black News/Little Orca Sports
With their maiden season almost halfway over, San Antonio FC finally seems to be getting the results they have deserved and been working for.
SAFC’s results so far this season have been a mixed bag. A promising first couple of games gave way to a general downturn in league play. At the same time, a couple of wins came SAFC’s way against lower-league opposition in the US Open Cup, but the cup run ended with a 0-4 demolition at the hands of the Houston Dynamo on June 15.
“The newness is starting to wear off,” said SAFC goalkeeper Josh Ford after the tough loss. “I think it’s time for us, as a group, to start doing what we need to do.”
There’s perhaps no better example of the upturn in fortune SAFC has recently found than their first ever pair of back-to-back wins. Neither was easy, but perhaps that’s not a bad thing as the team went through nervy moments and persevered together.
The first of those wins came June 18 against the Colorado Springs Switchbacks. A 2-0 halftime lead looked promising for SAFC and, despite conceding a questionable penalty early in the second half and facing increased pressure from the Switchbacks, the team hung tight and saw out their 2-1 lead.
The second successive win came Thursday night against Orange County Blues FC. After scoring first but being pegged back just before halftime and conceding early in the second half, SAFC rallied themselves and turned the result around with two teamwork-fueled goals in the last 20 minutes.
— Biko Brennan (@BBrennan_04) June 24, 2016
Prior to those results came a few more that helped the trend. Defender Milton Palacios headed in the late equalizer off of a corner in SAFC’s 1-1 draw with Portland Timbers 2 on June 11. That goal gave SAFC a valuable point on the road after they had acquired only two from the previous five league games.
As strange as it may sound, the embarrassing defeat to the Houston Dynamo may also have given SAFC a further jolt. To lose by four goals when the team had never lost by more than one may have been a shock to SAFC’s system, one that made them come together and dedicate themselves to turning things around.
Something else that has coincided with SAFC’s supposed upturn is a mixing up of the squad. Bobby Moseley’s loan with SAFC became moot once his parent club, the English Premier League’s Stoke City FC, let him go. Shawn Chin and Victor Araujo suffered season-ending injuries within a week of each other, against the Dynamo and Switchbacks, respectively. Manolo Sanchez has also suffered from a lower-body injury since returning from Puerto Rican national team duty.
The injuries are hitting SAFC’s attack particularly hard, so two imposing target forwards have been brought in as replacements. Franck Tayou comes in as the reigning Major Arena Soccer League MVP, while Taylor Morgan was brought in from the Tulsa Roughnecks and has also spent time in the academies of Southampton FC and Queens Park Rangers in England.
We have yet to see much of either player, but Tayou’s two substitute appearances have looked rather promising. His goal against the Blues on Thursday highlighted his ability to make well-timed runs and put himself in a good position to score. Both cameos have also showcased his immense physique and strength which will terrorize USL defenses for months to come. Let’s just say he’s rightfully earned the nickname “Franck the Tank.”
Another positive Tayou has already contributed though is a proactive mentality. Scoring just seconds after coming on against the Blues, you wouldn’t be surprised if he went off for a joyous celebration, especially since he scored in front of the supporters sections. Instead, Tayou grabbed the ball immediately and carried it to the center circle, speeding up the restart and giving SAFC plenty of time to score a winner, which they ultimately did.
“I went in to win the game for the team and do the best that I can to help,” Tayou said after Thursday’s win. “After I got the second goal, I felt like we could get the third one – that’s why I grabbed the ball and put it in the center of the field, just to get the guys going and keep focused on the game.”
— Danny Garcia (@dannyyboyy11) June 24, 2016
Despite their recent upturn in results and fortune, SAFC aren’t getting ahead of themselves. Neither head coach Darren Powell nor midfielder Michael Reed was willing to call the recent improvement part of anything larger or season-defining.
“We’ve got to keep our mentality right,” Reed said. “We’ve got to be humbled and keep going from scratch to say we’ve got to do better each game.”
For Reed, Powell and the rest of SAFC, it’s about coming out every game and fighting for three points, not looking at the bigger picture too much. If they can string individual wins together, they’ll find the bigger picture will turn out wonderfully in the end.
While they downplay what this little run will do for them in the grand scheme of their season though, it does seem to have lifted team spirits. As Tayou even noted postgame, the vibe among the team is rather positive – the celebratory music, excited chatter and plentiful high-fives in the locker room postgame are evidence of that. Not only is this team gelling on the field, they’re clearly bonding off of it too and that chemistry is paying dividends at the moment.
SAFC has struggled at times and shined at others so far. For any team in their inaugural season, it’s all about moving forward and getting better as the results pile up, regardless of how good or bad things may be going.
“We keep working in the good and bad times and now we move forward,” Palacios said through a translator after Thursday’s game.
SAFC’s next action is against the Tulsa Roughnecks on July 3. They will fancy their chances to continue the winning streak against the last-place team in the western conference, but as Powell will remind us, every game starts 0-0 and you have to work hard to change that and get a result. At the moment though, it looks like SAFC is both capable and motivated to do so.