Image: Becky Rath, Sacramento Republic FC
San Antonio FC’s perfect record in season openers came to an end Saturday night as they lost 2-1 away to Sacramento Republic FC at Papa Murphy’s Park. This was also the first time SAFC had even conceded a goal in a season opener.
“We’re disappointed not to get the result we wanted, but we showed a lot of fight after going down,” said SAFC midfielder Mikey Lopez, who scored SAFC’s lone goal in his debut for the club. “We need to learn from tonight, move on and recover for next weekend.”
SAFC came into the USL season undefeated through seven preseason matches, winning five of them. Unfortunately, SAFC also came into the season with a handful of players unavailable, with surprises on the injury report and therefore the lineup.
Both sides came out aggressively, looking to catch the other off guard, but Republic FC came out stronger and outshot SAFC 4-0 in the first 15 minutes. By halftime, Sacramento had both shots on target and had outshot SAFC 8-3.
SAFC often found themselves making semi-desperate challenges to snuff out Sacramento opportunities, while the occasional push forward would fall apart at the end. Having battled hard and drawn Sacramento away in both of their seasons so far, perhaps that was SAFC’s plan, but things got complicated when Sacramento finally unlocked the SAFC defense in virtually the last play of the first half.
Things went from bad to worse just minutes into the second half as SAFC goalkeeper Diego Restrepo was only able to parry a curled shot, after which Sacramento doubled their lead.
Not giving up hope and shifting players around, SAFC managed to halve the lead in the 68th minute when midfielder Mikey Lopez scored in his official debut for the club, hammering a shot into the bottom right corner from the top of the 18-yard box after a short pass from defender Darnell King. The opportunity came after midfielder Connor Presley slalomed through the box and his shot bounced off the frame of the goal.
Momentum finally began to shift in SAFC’s favor after the goal as they looked for an equalizer, but Sacramento was able to hold onto the advantage they gained in the first hour of the match. Crucial – almost heroic – for Republic FC in the final minutes was Josh Cohen, catching and saving repeatedly whenever the ball came near his goal.
The 2-1 loss to start the season was the first time in history Sacramento has beaten SAFC. The home side came out all guns blazing and it paid off as they kept testing an SAFC defense still working on their chemistry, with three of four starting defenders new to the club this season.
“I felt we were going to get the second goal but it didn’t quite happen tonight, but the effort of the players and desire to get back was there for everybody to see,” said SAFC Head Coach Darren Powell. “When you play Sacramento, it’s always going to be very difficult. It’s a hard place to earn points and tonight we fell a little bit short.”
Though it’s still early in the season, SAFC have a week until they attempt to turn things around as they face St. Louis FC on March 24. The USL’s ping-pong team drew 1-1 in their first match of 2018, away to Rio Grande Valley FC on Friday night. The two teams have a win apiece from when they played in 2016, with SAFC taking the match at Toyota Field 2-0.