All Images: Steve Aibel, LittleOrcaSports.com / Pitch Black News
Almost a month after San Antonio FC’s inaugural season came to an end in the Rio Grande Valley, the dust has mostly settled on the Alamo City soccer scene. Though not too hurriedly, eyes begin to shift toward next season…
As painful as it may be to think about, some of the men who donned an SAFC kit this past season will move on next year. It could be a player who wasn’t too stellar from April all the way to September or who failed to meet expectations and hardly featured, but it could also be a player who had such a strong season that they attracted attention from somebody else. Players may want to move somewhere in order to be paid more, played more, simply be closer to home or otherwise.
I wrote last month about the wonderful problem SAFC has at the goalkeeper position, where both Josh Ford and Matt Cardone made cases that they should be starting next season – but of course they can’t both do that, not at the same club at least.
But what about the guys farther up the pitch, the ones who shield the goalkeeper, transition from defense to attack or send SAFC fans into pandemonium as they put the ball in the back of the net? Of the outfield players, who should stay and who should go?
Going through the roster a few months ago, I discussed the credentials of every player regarding whether or not they should be retained or released. Going through player-by-player might be a good idea for something like a podcast, but if I went through every player here, you’d either stop reading entirely partway through or have to split the article up into multiple chunks – neither of those is ideal.
Instead, I’d like to look at the three main outfield categories – defender, midfielder and forward – and name one player in each category I think SAFC should work hardest to retain for another season. This is not me saying who the best players in those three areas are, as you will hopefully glean from my explanations. Some of my choices will seem contentious at first, but there are, I believe, valid explanations behind all of them, so hear me out before forming your angry mob please.
Defender: Stephen McCarthy
There were a few good defenders this season for SAFC, and guys like Milton Palacios and Greg Cochrane were stalwart full backs, but it’s the experienced central defender who gets the green light from me. His late-season injury has plenty of time to heal as well – and McCarthy was even snapped back in training for SAFC before the season was over, though he wasn’t fit to play so soon.
For most of the season, the center back contingent consisted of McCarthy, Sam McBride and Biko Bradnock-Brennan. Of those three, McBride and Bradnock-Brennan were both in their first professional seasons, making McCarthy’s years of experience, most notably at Major League Soccer’s New England Revolution, quite valuable. While players like Cochrane and Palacios are similarly seasoned, McCarthy’s role in the center bolsters the proverbial spine of the team, edging him above the others.
At the same time, Ryan Roushandel filled the hole caused by McCarthy’s injury fairly well, but the fact that his only appearance for San Antonio prior to September was in the broadcast booth makes it hard to safely say his experience was and would be just as helpful as McCarthy’s. And again, guys like Palacios and Cochrane are also experienced and their returns would be welcomed, but if we’re only picking one, McCarthy takes the prize.
Midfielder: Michael Reed
See, I told you some of these would be contentious. A fair number of you are probably screaming “Castillooooo!” right now, either audibly or in your head. While he’s one of the best players on the team, this list is about who SAFC should work hardest to retain, and Castillo doesn’t sound like he needs any convincing to stay.
“(My family) wants to be here for my career, my wife’s career and for my daughter,” he told the San Antonio Express News through a translator in June. “(The United States) is a country that can offer more opportunities and prospects for her.” Castillo wants to put down roots here – see, no convincing needed.
As far as we know though, Reed doesn’t have such a reason to stay. And unlike Castillo, who is closer to the end of his career than pretty much anyone on the team, Reed still has enough years ahead of him that he’d probably like to return to a higher level while still in his prime, if it’s the right fit at least.
Reed’s true value to the team was on display largely in the middle of the season. After starting the year in a more defensive role, Reed was eventually moved upfield, and he began to thrive and really help SAFC build up their attacks, especially with some eager new forwards to feed. Reed also proved his leadership credentials and deservedly wore the captain’s armband a time or two, when both Josh Ford and Castillo weren’t available.
Then, Reed was substituted off at halftime against Swope Park Rangers on July 30 due to injury and never saw the pitch again for SAFC. His absence was noticeable for the rest of that game as SAFC struggled mightily to get anything going forward in the second half. Just as he was starting to really do some damage, his season was abruptly, inexplicably cut short. Consequently, SAFC began struggling again after finally finding their stride.
Carlos Alvarez also factored quite heavily in SAFC’s season, particularly in their late push for the playoffs, and led SAFC in assists, shots on goal and appearances (shared with Cochrane) in league play. Again though, I can only choose one player, so despite the fact that Alvarez has MLS experience, Reed’s seemingly greater leadership and position along SAFC’s spine edge out the attacking midfielder who was SAFC’s first ever signing.
Forward: Jacques Francois
This selection is probably just as contentious as Reed’s, perhaps greater. You’re scratching your head at why Franck “the Tank” Tayou isn’t the forward I want to retain. That’s far from the case though; I think Tayou’s retention is just as important as Francois’, but he, like Castillo, seems more likely to come back than most.
First of all, Tayou came in halfway through the season – from the indoor soccer ranks, no less – so SAFC might have signed him on for more than half a season initially. Tayou also dropped what seems a rather obvious hint that he’d be returning, but you probably missed it. Think back…to a video…not ringing any bells, huh? Watch and listen carefully.
“Thank you, fans, for all your support – looking forward to seeing you next year out here at Toyota Field.” When you go back and hear that, you feel rather assured, huh? Even if you watched that video before and heard it, it might not have registered until now.
Francois, on the other hand, never dropped a hint like that. Also, because of an injury sidelining him in the middle of the season, his rhythm was thrown off and his talents somewhat forgotten.
As I told a few people though, Francois reminds me of a certain former San Antonio soccer hero, one from the seemingly now quite distant days of the Scorpions: Billy Forbes. Anyone who knows of the Turks and Caicos winger who graced Toyota Field in 2014 and 2015 will know that Francois is in good company being compared to him.
Both Francois and Forbes joined their respective clubs in mid-May, delaying their debuts in order to finish college. Both are most effective out on the wing, terrorizing full backs with their speed, agility and trickery before cutting inside to spur a serious assault on the opponent’s goal. Both burst onto the scene in their debuts, Forbes assisting two goals and drawing a penalty which was converted in a 3-0 win over the Carolina Railhawks, Francois scoring two and assisting another in the first ever competitive San Antonio derby with Corinthians FC, which ended 3-1 to the United Soccer League side.
One notable difference between Francois and Forbes though, an area in which the SAFC player will need to step up his game, is consistency. Granted, injury and squad rotation kept Francois from seeing the pitch as much, but even then, there were games where the Haitian was brilliant and there were games where he wasn’t any more effective than the rest of his teammates. When you are directly involved in more than one goal in multiple games, the expectations get ratcheted up.
If Francois can stay fit and utilize his talents on a regular basis though…well, we’ll start taking bets now on how many goals “Franck the Tank” scores off a Francois assist. Francois has plenty of his career ahead, and if the bright flashes he showed in his first season are any indication, he’d become one of SAFC’s most valuable and integral players if he were to stick around.
Again, some players will undoubtedly end up elsewhere come February and March – that’s just the way things are, especially in the minor leagues. We may not see as much turnover as we saw with the Scorpions, but it’s ridiculous to expect SAFC will be able to or even want to stick with the same squad next year. Despite growing as the season wore on, including a great run in June and July, the team faltered and stumbled at the end of the season, indicating changes need to be made to prevent that happening again.
Ideally, SAFC will be fighting for more than just a playoff berth that time next season. That’ll be due to some necessary departures and smart acquisitions, but perhaps most of all, because of the skilled, experienced, classy individuals they can field for a second season.
Who do you think SAFC should be most devoted to keeping? Just because the season is over, doesn’t mean we or the San Antonio soccer community as a whole will go into complete hibernation, so tell us what you think and keep the conversation going on social media, in person and elsewhere. We’ve got a few months to kill, so we may as well touch base from time to time, right?