San Antonio FC hosts its first international friendly in club history Saturday night against Club Santos Laguna of Mexico. While SAFC is right in the middle of their 2017 United Soccer League campaign, Santos is two weeks away from their season opener.
It’s a disparity common in midseason friendlies like this, but foreign to SAFC. While the home club will look to try some new things out and give some squad players a chance to make a case for more regular inclusion, the visitors will likely be thinking more about building the squad’s cohesion and fitness.
There’s also admittedly a disparity in the quality of the sides. Even with SAFC riding high in the USL this year, they’ll struggle to match up against a team which finished fifth in the 2017 Mexican Clausura and won the title two years prior.
“The exciting thing for us is that we’re going to play against an opponent that’s different to what we usually come up against, so from that perspective, everybody’s excited,” said Andy Thomson, usually an assistant coach for SAFC but currently acting head coach. “The fact that it’s different is an interesting challenge.”
Thomson will serve in that capacity while usual SAFC Head Coach Darren Powell is in Nashville, Tennessee. Powell is taking care of some business related to the US Soccer Pro Course he was selected for and which will give him the highest coaching license in the country by the end of the year, should he complete it.
The acting head coach said Saturday’s game, while just a friendly, allows the team to keep its rhythm going during this midseason bye week. To keep that rhythm, SAFC will likely field a strong squad at least to start. Thomson also praised SAFC Managing Director Tim Holt for bringing in a quality opponent like Santos to plug this gap in the schedule.
With less on the line though, SAFC can and likely will change some things up. Defender Ben Newnam said some players who haven’t featured much will have an opportunity to make a case for more regular inclusion. In addition, SAFC has integrated some Elite Training Program players into their practices in 2017, so it isn’t impossible one or two of them see the field, though their names will likely remain a mystery.
Whatever the outcome Saturday night, the important thing for everybody present – players, staff and of course fans – is to enjoy this different experience and the freedom a friendly like this presents.
San Antonio, TX. 7/8/2017. Kickoff 7:30 CDT
How to Watch: Facebook Live via San Antonio FC
Keys for SAFC: Some players have a chance to show they deserve more of a shout in the second half of the USL season, so look for those with fewer minutes so far to put in extra effort – and hopefully that pushes the regulars as well. This match is also a good opportunity for SAFC to experiment with tactics, strategies, etc they haven’t had a chance to try in competitive matches. In general, SAFC’s goal will be to find new players and methods to improve their overall performance in the second half of the USL season.
Players to Watch: SAFC has gone back and forth between Aly Alberto Hassan and Akwafei Ajeakwa as the focal point of SAFC’s attack while forward Cesar Elizondo has been out roughly two months due to injury. Once Elizondo is back, one of them will likely serve as his backup and the other will find it tough to find minutes, so both need to work hard to make their case for being Elizondo’s understudy once he’s fully fit.
Pitch Black News Projected Starting XI (4-2-3-1): Restrepo; Newnam, Hedrick, Roushandel, Cochrane; Reed, O’Ojong; Chin, Vega, Forbes, Hassan
Kyle Mahnke SAFC 1–1 Santos
Jonathan Check SAFC 1–2 Santos
Jose Mario Jimenez SAFC 0–2 Santos
Aaron Marvel SAFC ?–? Santos
Jesus Miguel Garcia SAFC 1–3 Santos