All Images unless otherwise noted: Steve Aibel, LittleOrcaSports.com / Pitch Black News
Update: After this article was posted, Josh Ford (broken scapula) and Stephen McCarthy (broken elbow) were both announced as being out for the remainder of the season.
A few dozen people gathered together on a cold February night at the Rock n Brews bar attached to the AT&T Center were the first to witness the reveal of the San Antonio FC name, crest, and colors. It was my first experience chatting with Managing Director Tim Holt, as he made his way through the venue greeting the unexpectedly large crowd that was still making its way through security at the original starting time of the reveal. It was a special night for everyone who made the trip.
Though it seems like a lifetime ago now, it was also the first in-person look at four San Antonio FC players. Two were former Scorpions players Rafa Castillo and Matt Cardone. One was a recent Trinity grad Victor Araujo. The fourth was a UIW grad who had played 2015 with Austin Aztex, Max Gunderon. Those four and the two that had previously been announced, Alvarez and McCarthy, were the first six players “USL San Antonio” made public.
The first stadium renovation (image: Kyle Mahnke)
While Rafa has been a staple of the team all season, Victor found his role near the midway point before succumbing to season ending injury.
Max Gunderson on the other hand has been forced to wait until the last third of the season to see significant playing time. Days after the right back was signed, the announcement came of another right back joining SAFC, Milton Palacios. A few weeks after that came the signing of Greg Cochrane, who was available late in the preseason because of a trial with another team overseas. Just when the full back position was feeling crowded enough already, Bobby Moseley was brought in on loan.
So Max waited.
After getting a few minutes scattered throughout the season, Gunderson’s biggest opportunity for league play came when Palacios was forced to leave the game at Sacramento. After finishing that game, Gunderson played almost the full 90 for the next two SAFC matches, both against Arizona United.
Gunderson celebrates with Franck “the Tank” and Cesar Elizondo after a goal
After the home victory facing Arizona the second time, I asked Gunderson about his feelings on getting significant minutes during the most crucial point of the season.
“I’ve been preparing my whole life for times like this. As a pro you’ve got to sit sometimes and just be patient and whenever they call your name, just be ready. I feel like when I came in, I played well so we just have to keep on going and push for playoffs.”
Another SAFC player thrust into the spotlight after injury is goalkeeper Matt Cardone. Starting keeper and team captain Josh Ford has missed two games to injury this season and another three to suspension. An extremely late scratch for Wednesday’s match against Arizona, it isn’t farfetched to assume he’ll be sidelined for Saturday’s bout with Seattle and miss his sixth full match.
Gunderson and Cardone look to defend the fort
Cordone’s goals against average of 1.91 isn’t anything to write home about. He’s allowed 10 goals and made 18 saves this season. But the stats don’t paint the whole picture for the San Antonio native, specifically that he is getting significantly better as the season goes forward.
Training with goalkeeper coach Juan Lamadrid, who holds the same position for Cardone’s alma mater Trinity and worked with Cardone when both were with the Scorpions, is paying dividends. A new factor in Cardone’s training is Ford himself who has been described by players and coaches alike as being “like another coach.”
One impressive show of maturity came late in the Arizona match when Cardone had the awareness to come far off his line to save a botched pass that could have easily turned into the equalizing goal for Arizona.
Another player poised to find more playing time is Sam McBride. The center back was called upon when Stephen McCarthy was forced to leave the Arizona game early in the first half with an apparent upper body injury.
We’ve written about McBride in the past, but since that article Biko Brennan has proved a valuable asset as well, cutting deep into McBride’s potential minutes. If McCarthy is forced to miss time, the capable McBride is poised to play next to Biko.
McBride heads the ball towards goal earlier in the season
With Shawn Chin and Victor Araujo likely out for the season and Jaques Francois, Michael Reed, Milton Palacios, Josh Ford, and Stephen McCarthy likely to miss time this Saturday against Seattle, we truly are into another phase of “next man up.” Gunderson, Cardone, and McBride seem ready to hold down the fort along side newer additions like Cesar Elizondo, Taylor Morgan, and Franck Tayou.
Cesar Elizondo celebrates after scoring a goal
With only 8 games left to prove they deserve a playoff spot, San Antonio FC will be relying heavily on these players to be prepared and get the job done.