Image: Ralph Mawyer Jr., San Antonio FC
San Antonio FC drew 1-1 with the Tampa Bay Rowdies on Saturday night at Toyota Field in a somewhat different and nostalgic matchup.
Saturday was the first time either side faced an opponent from a different conference in United Soccer League play. The Rowdies last visited Toyota Field in 2015, when San Antonio Scorpions FC still occupied it and the North American Soccer League was the competition at hand.
In 14 matches, the Rowdies and Scorpions never drew, with each side winning seven matches apiece, including four apiece at Toyota Field. It’s already going to be a different story for San Antonio and Tampa Bay in their USL phases after Saturday’s draw.
“Especially with the last week of the season right upon us, it made this a very interesting and intriguing game because we’re both fighting for the same thing, but not in the same conference,” said SAFC Head Coach Darren Powell. “It makes it intriguing and gives it that little playoff feel to the game, and I thought that was probably evident during the course of the match.”
The first half was quite open and both sides found opportunities throughout, but neither was able to finish the job and get on the scoreboard (which, incidentally, had a bit of an off-night as well).
The Rowdies did a particularly good job of getting behind the SAFC defense and in on goal, with all five of their shots in the first half coming from inside the 18-yard box.
The first of those chances came in just the second minute as midfielder Georgi Hristov slid a ball through on the right for forward Martin Paterson, whose shot from the right side of the box was saved by SAFC goalkeeper Diego Restrepo.
SAFC found chances in a number of ways, from counter attacks to an indirect free kick just a few yards from goal after Rowdies goalkeeper Matt Pickens picked up a backpass. Perhaps the most electric attack came in the 43rd minute as midfielder and captain Michael Reed raced forward and controlled the ball with his chest but sent a powerful volley just wide.
It was Tampa Bay who finally followed through and finished off one of the many opportunities in the 69th minute. Midfielder Walter Restrepo headed a lofted ball back across the face of goal where Hristov brought it down and rammed into the net with authority. Given a number of close calls until that point, the goal had seemed likely.
SAFC didn’t go down without a fight though and managed to retrieve a draw in the 88th minute. A ball into space on the left found Billy Forbes racing forward, and his low ball across the face of goal was met first-time by the foot of Ever Guzman for his first goal in an SAFC shirt.
“We’re getting close to the playoffs now and that situation (of trailing in a match), we could be in it two weeks from now,” said SAFC defender Greg Cochrane. You’ve just got to keep shooting and hopefully one ball bounces your way, and luckily today it did.”
It’ll be a quick turnaround for SAFC as they play Portland Timbers 2 on Wednesday in a match originally scheduled for Aug. 26 but postponed due to Hurricane Harvey. After that comes another match against regional rival Rio Grande Valley FC and then SAFC’s first ever USL playoff match.
SAFC Starting XI (4-4-2): Diego Restrepo; Mark O’Ojong, Sebastien Ibeagha, Stephen McCarthy (Cyprian Hedrick 90’), Greg Cochrane; Ryan Roushandel, Michael Reed (Mike Seth 85’), Pecka, Cesar Elizondo (Ever Guzman 77‘); Owayne Gordon, Billy Forbes
Substitutes not used: Johnston, Rodriguez, Presley, Araujo
SAFC Discipline: Pecka (yellow card, 50th minute – sixth of the season), Owayne Gordon (yellow card, 55th minute – first of the season), Mark O’Ojong (yellow card, 84th minute – fifth of the season), Ever Guzman (yellow card, 88th minute – first of the season)