Image: Jesus Miguel Garcia, Pitch Black News
San Antonio FC is about to embark on the second half of their 2017 United Soccer League campaign, having raced out of the gates in the first half.
Through 16 games, SAFC has 10 wins, five draws and just a single loss, putting them at 35 points. That impressive record has them sitting in second place in the USL Western Conference table, eight points behind Real Monarchs SLC but with a game in hand on the leader, and three points ahead of Swope Park Rangers in third place.
At the midway mark, SAFC players and coaches are both willing to look back on the ambitions and successes of the first half of the season while looking toward the second half with optimism. Here’s some of what they’ve said over the past couple of weeks as they are set to finish what they started.
- “At the start of the season, I think we said we needed to have 2/3 results…away games, if we can get draws, that’d be healthy, and the home games need to be wins.” –Michael Reed, midfielder
While winning at home and drawing away is a fairly common goal, SAFC has exceeded it overall as winning their eight home matches and drawing their other eight away would have them on only 32 points so far – so they’re three ahead.
Of course winning every home match is nearly impossible in practice anyway, so SAFC has in fact fallen a bit short in terms of that lofty goal, winning five and drawing three, earning 18 points. A variety of reasons – teams figuring SAFC out and being organized, poor pitch conditions at Toyota Field, etc – have seen SAFC allow three sides to come away from Toyota Field sharing the points.
A large part of why SAFC is performing so well in the standings though is their away form which has been nearly as good as their home form. They’ve won five matches, drawn another two and lost one on the road so far.
With just one loss though, SAFC is far exceeding their goal of getting results in 2/3 of matches, thanks in large part to a stingy defense which has allowed only seven goals this season. You can’t lose if you don’t concede.
Obviously, the rather specific goals given by Reed have been met to varying degrees, and some were ambitious. Just look at where SAFC is in the table and how they’ve performed and you can tell they’re doing well.
- “The way we set the season up is we want to continually improve. Every week, we’ve been getting progressively better, creating a few more chances.” –Darren Powell, head coach
As well as SAFC has done so far, it’s not as easy to argue they’ve been improving, or at least not as much compared to some opponents.
In terms of results and form, SAFC has fluctuated at home, but their five away wins all came at the start of the season, and they’ve now drawn two and lost one of their last three matches away from Toyota Field.
As Powell noted, teams have started to adjust to SAFC’s defense-first, counterattacking style, and they’ve made life harder for SAFC particularly since the start of May – SAFC has to work harder, yet results are staying the same or even declining.
There are ways in which SAFC has improved, such as building more chemistry and learning to adjust for teams which prepared well for them, but their rate of improvement may not be keeping up with the rate at which opponents are getting better themselves.
This isn’t to say SAFC has gone bad or anything; they’ve just gone from great to…above average, and they could drop down a bit more if they don’t figure out how to get goals and wins flowing more abundantly again.
SAFC may even be fine with a midseason dip – it just gives them room to improve in the latter half and come racing back at the end to head into the playoffs in form.
One goal where Powell and his team have succeeded though is improving upon last season’s performance. SAFC has amassed as many wins and just one fewer point hallway through 2017 compared to their final tallies in both categories in 2016.
- “If we play compact like that throughout every game in the USL, we’re going to be even tougher to beat. We have a great team and we have to bring that intensity every game.” –Diego Restrepo, goalkeeper
Bridging the two halves of SAFC’s USL season was a friendly against Club Santos Laguna of Liga MX, a 1-1 draw where SAFC lost 4-3 on penalty kicks. Against such a renowned and skilled opponent, the result and performance could help SAFC regain some of their mojo heading into the second half of the season.
As a goalkeeper on a team which uses defense as the foundation for success, it’s no surprise Restrepo makes note of the solid defensive performance he and the team had.
After the high of going 672 minutes without conceding in USL play from late April to mid-June, SAFC has now conceded in their last three USL matches, the first time they’ve done so all season. Though SAFC conceded one goal against Santos as well, they should pat themselves on the back for limiting it to that as SAFC’s goal was under pressure much more often than Santos’.
Restrepo in particular had one of his best performances for SAFC, making seven saves on the night including a few spectacular stops to deny equally impressive efforts. The defense in front of him worked hard to make Santos’ job difficult in their attacking third, no matter how often they found themselves there.
Despite conceding in their last three league matches, the Santos friendly could indicate SAFC’s defense will be back to its best. As proven this season, a defense at its stingy best means at least a result in every match. If the club is able to consistently put a ball in the back of the net, SAFC will surely be on the right track to make a run at the USL Cup.