Image: Steve Aibel, LittleOrcaSports.com / Pitch Black News
San Antonio FC defeated Seattle Sounders FC 2 with a lone goal Saturday night at Toyota Field. It was the first meeting between the two teams in San Antonio.
The only previous matchup between the two sides took place in Seattle on April 3. The match was memorable for SAFC as they grabbed a 3-0 win, their largest in club history, in their inaugural game. SAFC forward Jason Johnson scored the first two goals in the April matchup within ten minutes.
However, Johnson started Saturday’s game on the bench and only came on late in Saturday’s game. Four of the 11 who started at Seattle earlier in the season were facing them from the opening whistle again. Two notable omissions were goalkeeper Josh Ford and defender Stephen McCarthy, both of whom suffered season-ending injuries just prior to or during Wednesday’s 3-2 win against Arizona United SC.
“We’ve just got to get a little bit sharper every week,” said SAFC’s Matt Cardone, who will be covering for Ford in goal. “Since the beginning of the year, we’ve all been training our hardest, so now it’s time to perform.”
SAFC controlled the flow of the match in its early stages. However, this bright start was hindered by a tendency to make a bad pass or take a stray touch here and there, coupled with an alert and pressuring Seattle side.
SAFC began to figure the Seattle defense out and find good chances in the 18th minute as forward Franck Tayou took a shot from the top of the box which was blocked by Seattle. Just seconds later, he latched onto a Carlos Alvarez through ball only to fire just wide of the goal.
Off a second successive corner in the 27th minute, Tayou controlled the ball well with his back to goal and found space for a shot but Seattle goalkeeper Charlie Lyon was able to get behind it. Castillo nearly caught Lyon off his line just seconds later and the Seattle goalkeeper subsequently had to punch away a long lob upfield by Sebastien Thuriere before Cesar Elizondo could get on the end of it.
After that, both sides failed to threaten each other much before the whistle was blown for halftime. The teams would enjoy a lengthier midway break than usual as lightning in the area forced a delay of 15 extra minutes.
It wasn’t long after the game restarted that SAFC grabbed the lone goal. A well-worked one-two between Castillo and Taylor Morgan ended with the former getting behind the Seattle defense and expertly placing his shot into the top corner out of Lyon’s reach.
After the goal, Seattle understandably increased their pressure on SAFC’s goal and continued to do so for the rest of the game. The home side responded by playing more cautiously and looking to counter when Seattle pushed far enough forward.
That counterattacking style nearly doubled the lead in the 67th minute as Tayou latched onto a ball on the right and crossed toward Manolo Sanchez, but Lyon came off his line and only just beat the SAFC forward to the ball. Seconds later, Seattle’s Victor Mansaray nearly caught Cardone off his line and equalized. The SAFC goalkeeper only just backpedaled and tipped the ball over in time.
Seattle’s efforts to equalize as the match wore on were valiant but insufficient. A number of threatening attacks came toward SAFC’s goal, but none had enough in them to best their tight defense and put the ball in the back of the net.
SAFC’s best chance to grab an insurance goal came in stoppage time as Jason Johnson stole the ball and ran dangerously up the left. Johnson’s cutback found Castillo but he was denied a second goal of the night by Tony Alfaro’s clearance off the line. The missed chance would prove inconsequential though as SAFC withstood the late storm and held onto their first ever 1-0 win.
“The system that we play, the shape of the team and the pressing of triggers today remained the same all the way though,” said SAFC head coach Darren Powell. “We had chances (on the break), but unfortunately we didn’t quite score that second goal where we could all take a big, deep breath – I’d like to do that one of these games.”
The result put them in 8th place in the United Soccer League western conference standings, though they are only six points off of the first-place Colorado Springs Switchbacks. That just goes to show how tight the conference is. SAFC can’t afford to rest on Wednesday and Saturday’s wins much as one or two bad results can send them plummeting out of a playoff position again.
SAFC now hits the road for games against Saint Louis FC, who they’ve never faced, and Swope Park Rangers, who overturned a 1-0 SAFC lead on July 30 to win 2-1. Though SAFC is ahead of both sides in the standings, it is by a thin margin, so there is little room for error if SAFC want to comfortably stay in the race for a playoff spot and control their own destiny.
SAFC Starting XI (4-2-3-1): Matt Cardone; Max Gunderson, Sam McBride, Biko Bradnock-Brennan, Greg Cochrane; Sebastien Thuriere (Danny Garcia 59’), Miguel Salazar; Cesar Elizondo (Taylor Morgan 42’), Rafa Castillo(c), Carlos Alvarez (Manolo Sanchez 65’); Franck Tayou (Jason Johnson 88’)
Substitutions not used: Johnston, Okiomah, Diego Garcia
SAFC Official Man of the Match: Rafa Castillo