Image: Josh Jordan, San Antonio FC
San Antonio FC defeated Phoenix Rising FC via a single early goal on Saturday night at Toyota Field. The club extended its unbeaten streak in league play to 10 matches and kept a league-leading seventh clean sheet of the season.
Despite the continuing hype, Chelsea and Ivory Coast legend Didier Drogba didn’t make his Phoenix debut, not even appearing in the 18-man squad which showed up in San Antonio. SAFC trotted out a standard starting lineup with the exception of San Antonio native Devin Vega being included from the start in Rafa Castillo’s regular position in midfield just behind the striker.
“(Phoenix) had a lot of local legends that I used to watch when I was little, so going out there and performing and getting the win is a great feeling,” Vega said.
Saturday’s match looked more like a typical SAFC outing from earlier in the season. The home side allowed Phoenix to come at them with their star-studded but somewhat toothless attack and looked to pounce on the porous visiting defense.
SAFC forward Akwafei Ajeakwa scored the match’s only goal in the 12th minute as he stabbed home from midfielder Kris Tyrpak’s cutback. The move began with midfielder Billy Forbes carving through the Phoenix defense and sliding the ball through for Tyrpak to put it back in front of goal for Ajeakwa.
SAFC looked hungry to double their lead quickly, with a good opportunity coming in the 25th minute. Tyrpak got off a shot which was parried by Phoenix goalkeeper Josh Cohen, then Forbes latched onto the ball but his shot was blocked and the chance passed.
Forbes was again tormenting Phoenix’s defense in the 37th minute as he outfoxed a defender on the left and sent a ball into the box, but Vega wasn’t able to redirect it for his first goal in his hometown.
SAFC’s performance in the second half was more relaxed, perhaps a bit too much so for a team holding onto a one-goal lead. Chances presented themselves here and there for both sides, but nothing was serious or found the back of the net.
“We felt we may’ve got the second (goal) tonight – we didn’t actually do that, so at the end it becomes very tight, but I thought our players defended very well,” SAFC Head Coach Darren Powell said.
The margin of victory could’ve been better for SAFC, but the result was the same: three points to keep them at the top of the USL Western Conference table. Real Monarch SLC, who defeated the Colorado Springs Switchbacks 5-2 Saturday, continues to be the only club within touching distance of SAFC in the standings.
Coupled with FC Dallas’ loss to the San Jose Earthquakes by a lone goal, SAFC is now the only undefeated team in professional American soccer in 2017.
Saturday was the last of a three-match home stand for SAFC. They’ll next face Swope Park Rangers twice in a row, first on the road next Friday and at Toyota Field on June 3.
SAFC Starting XI (4-2-3-1): Diego Restrepo; Ben Newnam, Sebastien Ibeagha, Stephen McCarthy, Greg Cochrane; Michael Reed(c), Pecka; Kris Tyrpak (Mark O’Ojong 75’), Devin Vega (Shawn Chin 84’), Billy Forbes; Akwafei Ajeakwa (Aly Alberto Hassan 79’)
Substitutes not used: Johnston, Hedrick, Castillo, Rodriguez
SAFC Discipline: McCarthy (yellow card, 90th minute – fourth of the season)