Image: Jonathan Check, Two Ten Soccer
The full 2018 United Soccer League schedule was announced Friday, allowing followers of the league and its teams, including San Antonio FC, to excitedly analyze every detail of it.
SAFC already knew their first few games after the USL announced each team’s home opener a week earlier. They’ll begin the season on the road for the third time in their three seasons of existence, though this time on a Saturday instead of Sunday. In one of the more exciting matchups of the opening weekend, SAFC will take on MLS expansion hopeful Sacramento Republic FC on March 17.
After opening with a bang at Sacramento, SAFC’s home opener sees their season quiet down as they host Saint Louis FC. Saint Louis is known for being the perennial ping-pong team of the USL, playing in a new conference for the fourth season in a row. It’s not the most enticing home opener, but SAFC fans say they’re anxious to start another season and the first home match tends to draw well, so it should be a packed house.
While SAFC’s opener against Sacramento is exciting, it’s not a match which elicits immense passion like one against Rio Grande Valley FC or Oklahoma City Energy FC would. Fans had to wait until the full schedule came out to see when they would square off against their bitter rivals, and those were the fixtures most people probably looked for first.
RGVFC is one of two teams SAFC will face three times this season, twice on the road on May 12 and Aug. 29, then at home on Oct. 13, the third time in as many seasons the teams end the regular season against one another. Some SAFC fans will make the trips earlier in the season to Edinburg, but a good number will lament having to wait until the final day to heckle one of SAFC’s most bitter rivals.
Fans will also be disappointed in only having two cracks at OKC, the one team in the USL Western Conference SAFC has played but never beaten. On top of that, their two matches against each other are both in July – the 4th in San Antonio and the 28th in OKC – so their rivalry will only flare up briefly.
The other team SAFC sees three times in 2018, and one who could be considered a lesser rival, is Swope Park Rangers. SAFC fans may dread seeing Swope so often this season as the Kansas City club has been a constant thorn in their side. In six meetings between the clubs, SAFC has won only once, losing three of the other matches including a 5-2 defensive collapse at Swope last season. One bright spot for SAFC is they will host Swope twice in a season for the first time, having hosted them only once each season in 2016 and 2017 and managing to draw each time.
Some fans may now also consider Phoenix Rising FC a rival after they took two of SAFC’s more beloved players from last season: San Antonio soccer hero Billy Forbes and SA native Devin Vega. Like OKC though, any rivalry will only heat up for a couple weeks as the sides meet in Arizona on Aug. 22 and in San Antonio on Sept. 8.
Looking at the bigger picture, SAFC has their notable home and away stints. They’ll host three matches in a row to start June, and within that stretch is an open weekend where SAFC could host an international friendly, like they did last year, on June 9 – but it may behoove them to focus on potential competitive matches, as will be discussed later. SAFC will also close the regular season on a three-match home stand.
Prior to that home run at the end of the season though, SAFC will play away eight out of 10 matches from Aug. 11 to Sept. 22. That run does allow for extended time away to play both of the Cascadia teams within a few days and then Tulsa Roughnecks FC, Swope and Saint Louis within a week of each other, but the fixture congestion and being away from home could take a toll. Such extended runs of away matches could help the team bond and build chemistry if they happened earlier in the season, but they’re just a hindrance later on.
It’s a mixed bag for potential US Open Cup matches as well. If SAFC enters the competition at the same stage they did last year, their first match would be on May 16, nestled between a short road trip to RGVFC the weekend before and a home match after – SAFC can stay comfortably in Texas. An away trip to Reno 1868 FC prior to the next round on May 30, should they make it, wouldn’t be ideal though. RGVFC and Reno, both USL hybrid affiliates, also have the luxury of not worrying about the Open Cup as much or as soon as teams like SAFC. The potential of making it a round farther could also force SAFC to question the wisdom of a friendly on June 9, which would be four days prior to the potential cup tie.
Despite the negatives of SAFC’s schedule outlined above, one thing SAFC fans may be happy about is its consistency. SAFC will have their greatest ever portion of fixtures on Saturdays, with 26 of 34 taking place in that standard slot. While SAFC ties their greatest number of midweek matches with six, they’re all on Wednesdays. Other than that, SAFC has one match apiece on Friday and Monday. The latter sounds very odd until you realize it’s a holiday, and after it SAFC can say they’ve played on every day of the week, however meaningless that distinction.
That Monday match on a holiday constitutes one of four holiday matches for SAFC this year. They’ll begin the season at Sacramento on St. Patrick’s Day, host Fresno FC on Cinco de Mayo, host OKC on July 4th and travel to play Real Monarchs SLC on Labor Day. Fans will hope the two home games have fireworks or other promotions…or at least dollar-beer night, come on.
If we’re being honest, the 2018 schedule is a bit rough and unexciting for SAFC, particularly with it containing fewer chances to see rivals and that away-heavy stretch in August and September. Like last year, a friendly during that open weekend and some TV broadcasts could breathe some life into it, but as it stands, it’s fairly uninspiring.
If you haven’t already, check out SAFC’s full 2018 schedule yourself and feel free to let us know how you feel about it, what does and doesn’t excite you about it, etc.