Image: San Antonio FC
San Antonio FC fell to Arizona United SC 1-0 on Saturday night at Peoria Sports Complex in the first ever meeting between the two clubs.
Coming into the match, SAFC and Arizona were 13th and 10th in the United Soccer League western conference standings, respectively, but were only separated by two points. The gap between the teams widened to five places and just as many points due to Saturday’s result.
Arizona came out the more aggressive side early on. They kept SAFC on the back foot for the first 20 minutes and tested SAFC’s traditionally sturdy defense, but the hosts were unable to break through.
SAFC’s first real chance came in the 20th minute off a quick counter attack. Carlos Alvarez took the ball and ran on the left before cutting inside and curling a shot just high and wide of the far corner.
Another decent chance came SAFC’s way in the 29th minute as Cesar Elizondo sent a pinpoint cross on the ground to Sebastien Thuriere. The Haitian shifted the ball to his right foot and wasn’t closed down by Arizona, but sent his shot off the near post.
Both sides would continue to have chances to take the lead but neither was able to capitalize before the referee whistled for halftime.
The second half began much more evenly than the first with both sides getting chances. Arizona pressed particularly hard and created multiple dangerous chances just after the 65-minute mark but was thwarted by SAFC’s defense and their own not-quite-accurate-enough shooting.
Arizona would finally grab the opening goal in the 73rd minute as Long Tan chipped a ball over the SAFC defense and found Tyler Blackwood, whose shot trickled into the net despite SAFC goalkeeper Josh Ford getting a piece of it. SAFC insisted Blackwood was offside when the ball was chipped to him, but the linesman saw nothing wrong with the run. Replays failed to resolve which way the situation should have gone.
After the lone goal, substitutions for both teams began to break up the rhythm of the match. Both sides also showed little hesitation in employing long-ball tactics – Arizona in an attempt to defend their lead and San Antonio in an attempt to nullify it.
Perhaps SAFC’s best chance of the match came in second half stoppage time as Elizondo fed substitute Franck Tayou who advanced on goal unmarked before rounding the goalkeeper and firing just wide. On this occasion however, the linesman put his flag up and ruled the striker offside. Just as it was surrounding Blackwood’s goal, replays showed SAFC fell victim to another call which was difficult to definitively say should have gone either way.
The two sides will play each other again on Wednesday, this time at Toyota Field. With 27 points left to play for, SAFC is by no means outside the playoff picture, but they must do all in their power to keep their playoff hopes in their own hands as the calendar and games are chipped away.
The loss continued the form of both clubs; SAFC has now lost three of their last four and Arizona has won four of their last five. SAFC will look for home-field advantage to turn the tide Wednesday and again on Saturday against Seattle Sounders FC 2, who SAFC beat 3-0 in their first ever USL match.
The two narrow offside calls – one against Arizona that wasn’t called and one against SAFC that was – will fuel shouts of having video replay in soccer. The USL became the first soccer league to experiment with such technology being available to the referee on Friday in a game between New York Red Bulls II and Orlando City B. The technology, termed Video Assistant Referee (VAR) was used multiple times during the match.
Although VAR can’t be used for offside calls yet, it could eventually be expanded and used to clear up calls like the ones that benefitted Arizona and hurt SAFC on Saturday, rightly or wrongly. Whether it benefits a team or sets them back, it would be hard to argue with a call that a referee can be more confident in thanks to video replay.
SAFC Starting XI (4-2-3-1): Josh Ford(c); Max Gunderson (Manolo Sanchez 89’), Stephen McCarthy (Sam McBride 69’), Biko Bradnock-Brennan, Greg Cochrane; Sebastien Thuriere (Danny Garcia 77’), Miguel Salazar; Taylor Morgan (Jason Johnson 74’), Rafa Castillo, Carlos Alvarez (Franck Tayou 80’); Cesar Elizondo
Substitutes not used: Cardone, Okiomah
SAFC Discipline: Yellow card, Taylor Morgan (5th this season, 2nd for SAFC), Miguel Salazar (3rd this season), Cesar Elizondo (1st this season)