Image: Steve Aibel, Pitch Black News/Little Orca Sports
Matt Cardone is poised to have his first run of games in goal for San Antonio FC following Josh Ford’s suspension for violent conduct in Saturday’s scoreless draw with Oklahoma City Energy FC.
The United Soccer League announced Tuesday that Ford would be suspended four games for his aggressive actions in an altercation that occurred in the 68th minute on Saturday. Both Ford and Energy FC midfielder Michael Thomas were given straight red cards for their parts in the incident. SAFC appealed Ford’s suspension and announced Wednesday it would be reduced to three games.
As it stands though, Cardone is set to be in goal for three games: at home to Vancouver Whitecaps 2 and Los Angeles Galaxy II and away to Swope Park Rangers. All three games will be difficult for Cardone and SAFC as the stretch includes two of the current top three in the USL’s western conference and a team SAFC is competing with for one of the coveted lower playoff spots.
“You don’t know when your moment’s going to come, so you have to be ready,” said SAFC head coach Darren Powell of Cardone having to be hastily substituted in on Saturday. Powell also stressed that every player in the squad is ready when and if called upon.
Coming into this stretch, Cardone has two appearances and one start for SAFC. The most recent was his 20-minute cameo after Ford was sent off Saturday, where his one real contribution was coming out of his box to boot a ball upfield. Besides that, Energy FC didn’t trouble him and the defense in front of him, as usual, kept anything from getting too close.
His other, full-game showing for SAFC, forced by Ford’s illness on May 7, was busier and more disappointing as SAFC came up against a slew of attacking by Rio Grande Valley FC. Although Cardone was able to make some important saves, he also let in three goals which could fairly easily have been prevented. However, he and the defense in front of him all had trouble coping with RGVFC’s flying attack, so the blame can’t fall fully on him.
What’s good is that Cardone is still a young keeper without much experience at the professional level – he’s got plenty of room to grow and plenty of time to do it. He and the rest of SAFC will have looked back at the RGVFC game and hopefully all learned how to prevent making similar mistakes and being on the wrong end of a similar onslaught again.
What could this run in the team mean for Cardone though? Is it possible that, given a good run of games against tough opposition, Cardone could steal the starting goalkeeper position from Josh Ford?
Unfortunately for Cardone, it’s quite unlikely. Ford has had a strong season so far, making some spectacular and critical saves. He also has the sixth best goals-against average of goalkeepers with 10 or more appearances. He also arguably should have been the last line of defense for the USL’s team of the week once or twice, but the USL apparently had other plans.
Critically though, Ford is also a vocal leader of SAFC, earning him the captaincy for SAFC’s inaugural season. Cardone could potentially match that leadership, even without the armband, but we didn’t really see it in 90 minutes against RGVFC. Also, one thing Ford has which Cardone can’t hope to rival yet is experience at the professional level.
Putting aside all the reasons Ford is so great though, it’s still possible that Cardone takes this stretch of games and makes his case for…something. If he can perform well against the tough opponents ahead and also show leadership from between the posts, it would be a fairly powerful statement and give Darren Powell a tougher decision to make concerning who should start between the pipes.
Of course that’s all hypothetical. Cardone could also struggle just as much as he did in the second half of RGVFC. Until Saturday and the subsequent games Cardone will have in goal though, we have no idea what will happen. It’s a case of wait-and-see now.
“Every week, all the keepers and all the players train like we’re all going to play,” said Cardone after Saturday’s game. “It’s tough as a keeper to come off the bench, but you’ve got to be ready and you know what you’ve got to do.”
Cardone faces the biggest test of his professional career so far with the games coming up, but out of that stretch could also come his biggest accomplishments as a professional. The time is now, Matt – sink or swim…or just float safely until Josh Ford is back in net against Sacramento Republic on Aug. 6.