Image: Steve Aibel, LittleOrcaSports.com / Pitch Black News
San Antonio FC fell 2-1 to Swope Park Rangers in heartbreaking fashion at Children’s Mercy Victory Field on Wednesday night.
As with many of SAFC’s recent and upcoming games, Wednesday’s had immense playoff implications. Coming into the match, SAFC and Swope Park sat just one point apart, having both played 24 games. However, SAFC held the last remaining playoff spot while Swope Park looked longingly in from the outside.
Saturday’s game in Saint Louis saw SAFC’s leading goalscorer Rafa Castillo pick up his fifth yellow card of the season, ruling him out of Wednesday’s game. He was joined on the list of absent SAFC central midfielders by Michael Reed, still out with a lower body injury, and Sebastien Thuriere, who departed for Haitian national team duty after Saturday’s game.
Those omissions made SAFC short-staffed on defensive-minded midfielders, leaving only rookie Miguel Salazar. They compensated for that by switching from the 4-2-3-1 that had brought success in recent weeks back to the 4-1-4-1 that had seen more action throughout the season before Thuriere broke back into the starting lineup and anchored the midfield alongside Salazar.
Swope Park started strong and opened the scoring in just the 3rd minute. Ayrton managed to stay onside and was in lightyears of space on the right wing before going one-on-one with SAFC goalkeeper Matt Cardone and firing just inside the far post past the reigning United Soccer League Player of the Week. Having kept a clean sheet Saturday, Cardone’s chance of doing so again was quickly dashed.
SAFC quickly levelled though as Fejiro Okiomah, starting his first game in almost two months, headed the ball home off a Carlos Alvarez corner in the 8th minute. The assist for Alvarez was his sixth of the season, extending his lead in that category for SAFC.
Having already seen their early lead negated, Swope got back on the front foot for the rest of the first half. Though they tested Cardone and SAFC’s defense again and again, creating some close calls, they were unable to regain the lead. SAFC found occasional chances as well but also found themselves incapable of capitalizing.
The second half transpired more evenly than the first, though Swope Park gradually pushed SAFC more and more. Jacques Francois and Shawn Chin were both substituted on in the second half for their first SAFC appearances since June 15 and June 23, respectively. With SAFC’s injury woes increasing even more as of late, the returns raised spirits some. Chin’s return is particularly surprising as he was expected to miss the rest of the season after breaking his leg.
SAFC had a golden chance to grab a game-winning goal in the 90th minute as Francois dribbled up the right side, got past his defender and crossed the ball low into the box. Franck Tayou connected but his shot was saved by Swope Park goalkeeper Adrian Zendejas.
SAFC would rue that missed chance as Swope Park stole a winner themselves in the dying moments of the game. A long ball sent upfield by Swope Park was latched onto by the USL’s all-time leading goalscorer, Dane Kelly, who outmuscled SAFC defender Biko Bradnock-Brennan and maneuvered past an onrushing Cardone.
Before Kelly could get a solid shot off, Bradnock-Brennan booted the ball into the air, but the referee awarded a penalty kick to Swope Park after seeing SAFC’s defender tug the shirt of the Swope Park striker.
Though Cardone has saved two penalties for SAFC this season, the third time was not the charm as Ayrton sent him the wrong way, grabbing his second goal of the night and more importantly the win for Swope Park.
Wednesday was the second meeting in a row where Swope Park, at home both times, topped SAFC 2-1. Across all three matchups between the two teams, Swope Park outscored SAFC 5-3 and grabbed two wins. The only point SAFC got in this matchup all season was in SAFC’s inaugural home game on April 9, a 1-1 draw.
Had Swope Park not grabbed their very late winner, they would’ve remained in 9th place while SAFC jumped up to 7th. Instead, SAFC fell down to 9th while Swope Park leapfrogged into 6th. The loss made SAFC’s playoff chances a fair bit dicier.
The pressure on SAFC will continue as they now face dates with Arizona United SC, Saint Louis FC and Real Monarchs SLC in their next three games. Though all three teams are currently behind SAFC in the USL western conference standings, none are more than four points behind as they all seek to sneak into the playoffs as well.
SAFC Starting XI (4-1-4-1): Matt Cardone; Max Gunderson, Sam McBride, Biko Bradnock-Brennan, Greg Cochrane(c); Miguel Salazar; Fejiro Okiomah (Jason Johnson 62’), Danny Garcia (Shawn Chin 73’), Carlos Alvarez, Taylor Morgan (Jacques Francois 82’); Manolo Sanchez (Franck Tayou 57’)
Substitutions not used: Johnston, Diego Garcia, Dunker
SAFC Discipline: Biko Bradnock-Brennan (4th of the season)