image: Darren Abate / San Antonio FC
If you follow me on twitter (@Kyle_Mahnke), you already know that I believe there is too much time left in the 2018 USL season to overreact to a few suboptimal results.
However, that doesn’t mean we wont see some adjustments to the way San Antonio FC plays going forward.
Both Head Coach Darren Powell and midfielder Mikey Lopez stressed the fact that the squad has created a strong amount of chances in their last few matches.
“We’re getting the opportunities in front of goal, we’re just not finishing them. We have to clean that up,” Lopez said after a training session Wednesday.
When asked how to finish those chances that are being created, Powell responded, “You just have to keep encouraging and giving the strikers confidence all the time,” in addition to continuing to provide chances for the strikers to capitalize.
Unless San Antonio pulls something like the 0 for 27 run that sunk the Houston Rockets in game 7, the law of averages is strongly in their favor. The goals will come if SA keeps playing the way they have, but here are three adjustments I think we could see in the coming weeks.
Get the central midfield more involved
This offseason, SAFC picked up some serious talent to replace outgoing midfielders Michael Reed and Billy Forbes. In the central midfield, former NYCFC man Mikey Lopez and former Liga and Ascenso MX veteran Sonny Guadarrama joined SAFC standouts Pecka, Rafa Castillo, and Maxi Rodriguez.
Preseason 2018 saw Sonny Guadarrama connect with striker Ever Guzman like the two had played together for years. While stats and video are scarce in the preseason friendlies, one of the biggest takeaways of the entire preseason for me was that SAFC may have found a powerful 9-10 duo in Guzman and Sonny.
But that connection has been less potent in the regular season.
Guadarrama missed the first match of the season and appeared either as a substitute or was subbed off in the next two matches. Guzman fell to injury immediately after scoring in Las Vegas on April 27th and hasn’t returned to play since.
Another major signing, Mikey Lopez, hasn’t seen consistent minutes until recently despite being the club’s leading scorer on the season. Lopez was likely brought in as a Michael Reed / number 8 replacement and has proven to be a dynamic box-to-box player.
After the club’s loss in Reno on May 26th, defender Greg Cochrane had the following to say about where the squad could improve:
“We have to get our guys closer to our number nine and play more through the middle. We’re very dynamic on the outside but we also have players that can present a threat through the middle, so we have to combine the two approaches and if we do so I think we can be a dangerous team moving forward.”
While the outer portions of San Antonio’s formation have been performing well, getting the central midfield more involved would open space for the wingers and striker.
Utilize the left side of the formation
I think I’ve said this every week, but Darnell King has been the new signing of the year for SAFC. Playing primarily as a right back in league play and right midfielder in U.S. Open Cup, King has inserted himself into must-start territory. Omar Gordon has been a great pairing in league play to make a truly lethal right side.
But SAFC iron man Greg Cochrane and rival-turned-teammate Jose Escalante can absolutely hold their own on the left, and the heat maps and touch maps show that SAFC has favored the right side heavily this season.
There are other variables at play, including injuries and poor field conditions or fields with baseball coverings on the left side during vital attacking sequences. But if SA can get their minutes leader and strong left midfielders involved equally with their right side, the balance could open things up for King and Gordon.
Commit to a three center back formation
This one might be a little farfetched, but SAFC is perfectly set to play a three center back system.
There are already times where Pecka drops back to fill out the backline with the two central defenders while King and Cochrane push forward, so it isn’t entirely unheard of for the club. In 2016, Cochrane described his role at the club as anywhere on the outside. With his comfort as a midfielder and King’s time spent there already this season the two could fill out a four-man midfield easily.
Center back Ryan Felix has stepped up in some crucial spots this season to help ease the pressure at times on goalkeeper Diego Restrepo, but the sale of Sebastien Ibeagha to NYCFC in the preseason has left the club without a vital piece of their league-best 2017 defense. With the ability to play Cochrane and King as midfielders, inserting a third center back or keeping the central defensive midfielder (Pecka / Roushandel) back could help with the high press opponents have found success with when playing SAFC.
We’ve seen SAFC shake things up when results get stale in previous seasons. I’m not sure we’re at a point of changing the starting XI dramatically, but we may see these or other adjustments when San Antonio hosts Portland Timbers 2 this Saturday or FC Dallas on Wednesday.