All images: Steve Aibel, LittleOrcaSports.com / Pitch Black News
San Antonio FC did not win a league match in the month of May. From May 7th to June 4th, the South Texas club scored three goals in USL play. That period saw two losses and a draw against in-state rivals Rio Grande Valley FC Toros. Things were not looking good for the Spurs Sports and Entertainment owned club in its inaugural season.
Since the June 4th loss, the club hasn’t been defeated in USL play. They’ve scored 10 goals in 7 matches. San Antonio defeated clubs they lost to on the road earlier in the season in Orange County and Colorado Springs, and a club at the top of the western standings in Vancouver. Things are looking good for the boys in black.
So what changed for the once-struggling club?
Fan favorite Franck “the tank” Tayou battling an Orange County Blues player
There are two points fans can point to as “the spark” that inspired the shift. We’ll never really know which one did it, but since they happened in the same week maybe they can be rolled into one event.
The first was a draw in Portland against Timbers 2 on June 11th. Trailing from the 15th minute onward after a Portland corner took a bad bounce off of Carlos Alvarez, defender Milton Palacios turned his first shot of the season into the equalizing goal in the 87th minute. After a bitter defeat to RGV the match before, SA looked good in this match. They may have even won if the match hadn’t occurred during the MLS break as Portland used some of their first-team players. Despite “only” being a draw, a point on the road was desperately needed and it was good to see the club rewarded for a good shift.
The second result happened just 4 days later as SA traveled east to take on Houston Dynamo in the U.S. Open Cup. It was an absolute massacre. The USL side never found their footing and were absolutely punished, losing 4-0 and ending their first U.S. Open Cup run. In interviews from the changing room, you can hear the frustration in multiple players’ voices. The players seemed just as frustrated as the fans.
The club hasn’t lost since that day, tallying 4 wins and a draw in USL play.
Milton Palacios celebrates after scoring a goal at home
Changes in Play:
With few exceptions, it wasn’t hard to guess who would be playing where for the first part of the SAFC season. The formation was almost always a 4-2-3-1 with Stoke City loanee Bobby Moseley and former Chicago Fire player Greg Cochrane alternating playing winger and full back, fan-favorite Rafa Castillo and Michael Reed in defensive mid, Former MLS player Carlos Alvarez anchoring the midfield and Jason Johnson playing as the lone striker. Sometimes we would see a player swapped out as a winger or striker, but it was fairly predictable for those who followed the team closely.
Starting with the Colorado Springs match, the first after the embarrassing Houston loss, we started to see something truly different. With the squad in a 4-1-4-1 / 4-5-1, players found themselves in slightly different roles than the first part of the season. Michael Reed and Rafa Castillo were moved up to central midfield, leaving rookie Miguel Salazar as the lone holding midfielder. Perennial 10 Carlos Alvarez found himself on the wing opposite rookie standout Victor Araujo. If San Antonio was going to go down, it would do so with new tactics and a ferocious effort against the powerful Colorado side.
But the home team came away with three points as San Antonio’s new play style broke Colorado’s tough defense.
Oh yeah, this guy helped…
Franck “the Tank” Tayou in his first match with San Antonio FC
Two days before San Antonio FC took on Colorado, they announced the signing of a Major Arena Soccer League player. A controversial move at the time, Franck Tayou has very quickly become a fan favorite and is tied as the club’s leading goalscorer after playing less than 2 full game’s worth of minutes. His signing couldn’t have come at a better time as San Antonio FC lost forward Shawn Chin for the season after an injury picked up in Houston and would go on to lose rookie standout Victor Araujo for the season with an injury suffered in the Colorado game. Only a few weeks later, another dynamic rookie forward Jacques Francois would suffer an injury of which he isn’t expected to return from until late in the season.
Francois sets up Tayou perfectly for a goal against OC Blues
The Tank has been the most obvious help of the new signings because of the goals he’s scored. But the signings of forward Taylor Morgan and attacking midfielder César Elizondo can’t be understated.
Morgan is the tallest player on the squad, has shown the ability to play both ways, and has very good situational awareness and positioning in the short time he’s been with SA. While he hasn’t scored in his two appearances, the goals are likely to come given the abundance of quality chances created by Carlos Alvarez, Michael Reed, and the rest of the midfield.
Among the “new” midfield is a player San Antonians are familiar with as César Elizondo returns to SA after playing in Costa Rica’s top league for the first half of the year. Elizondo is a former Scorpions standout and a truly dynamic player that is just as comfortable scoring goals as he is shredding defenses to assist his teammates in scoring. He hasn’t had a big splash in his short 36 minutes of play so far, but it would be a surprise to see him off the field given his experience and talent.
SA native Matt Cardone kept a clean sheet against the top team in the league
While new signings are helping to bolster the roster, SAFC does still have its personnel issues. Starting goalkeeper and Captain Josh Ford has served the first game of his three game suspension after starting a brawl against OKC Energy FC. In his place, San Antonio native Matt Cardone and the SA defense kept a clean sheet against Vancouver despite the Canadian side being awarded a penalty kick on the play captured in the above image. Time will tell how the keeper raised just a few miles away from Toyota Field will hold up against LA Galaxy II’s league-leading scorer Jack McBean. (Note: We’ll have our regular preview post up on Friday).
As mentioned above, the loss of Victor Araujo and Shawn Chin to injury is devastating as they are not expected to return this season. Jacques Francois truly impressed in his few appearances, but the forward is not expected to return for a few more weeks.
One positive is that after suffering an injury while on national team duty with Puerto Rico, forward Manolo Sanchez is available once again. With a new arsenal of forwards and midfielders, we’ll see what Sanchez’s role on the squad is going forward, but it’s hard to picture him not being involved after being so impressive early in the season and in national team play.
So while San Antonio FC is currently experiencing some great times on its 6 game unbeaten streak, it wasn’t so long ago that fans were clamoring for the club to do something to start generating more goals. The flexibility of head coach Darren Powell to try different players and strategies and the crafty signings of the SAFC front office have put the Texas club right back into the USL Playoff picture in their first season.