Image: Darren Abate, USL
San Antonio FC has now defeated every team they’ve ever faced in the United Soccer League’s Western Conference, thanks to capturing an elusive win against Oklahoma City Energy FC last Saturday.
The club began play in 2016 and tallied seven first wins over an opponent that year. They matched that in a strong 2017, with OKC being the only hurdle remaining when their second season ended. Quickly defeating the two new teams in 2018, SAFC still had to overcome Energy FC and finally did so with a 2-1 comeback win on Saturday.
Over the roughly two and a half seasons it took SAFC to accomplish this feat, they racked up six wins apiece on their first and second attempts against clubs. Two opponents took three attempts, one took four and another five…and one more, OKC, took a whopping nine tries.
Ask the players and coaches how they feel about this achievement and they’d probably say it’s nice for the record books but they can’t afford to dwell on it – and why should they as they’re in the middle of their longest winning streak of 2018? Besides, only five players on SAFC’s roster have been around since the beginning to see the entire journey anyway, though the core coaching staff has stayed the same.
If you’re reading this though, you’re likely a follower of SAFC and can afford to look back, so join me as we take brief, nostalgic looks at each time SAFC bested an opponent for the first time.
Seattle Sounders FC 2 0-3 San Antonio FC (April 3, 2016 – first attempt)
SAFC’s first season was full of ups and downs, but they came racing out of the gate in their first ever competitive match. Two goals within the first 10 minutes from forward Jason Johnson got the club off on the right foot and forward Fejiro Okiomah added one in the 79th minute for what turned out to be SAFC’s best win of their inaugural season.
San Antonio FC 3-1 Tulsa Roughnecks FC (April 30, 2016 – first attempt)
SAFC has always had a good record against Tulsa and it started in the very first meeting between the two clubs, though they had to be patient and diligent. Forward Shawn Chin found just enough space to give SAFC the lead in the 38th minute but Tulsa drew level four minutes into the second half through forward Kaleemullah Khan.
Midfielder Rafa Castillo and Johnson got SAFC back out in front with two sublime strikes into the top left corner in the 68th and 88th minutes, respectively, handing the club its second-ever win and first at home.
San Antonio FC 2-1 Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC (June 18, 2016 – second attempt)
Having fallen on the road to the Switchbacks in April, perhaps affected by the altitude, SAFC got their revenge on what was likely a sweltering June night. Forward Victor Araujo opened the scoring with a well-placed finish in just the eighth minute as SAFC capitalized off a bad pass out of the back, then defender Stephen McCarthy scored the winning goal in the 35th minute as he tapped the ball in after his initial header from a free kick was saved.
The Switchbacks halved the deficit via a Luke Vercollone penalty kick five minutes into the second half, but SAFC’s defense prevented a second goal and kept all three points.
San Antonio FC 3-2 Orange County Blues (June 23, 2016 – second attempt)*
Again avenging a loss from April, SAFC rallied to defeat OC Blues thanks to help from midseason signings. Tidy footwork saw SAFC take the lead in the 17th minute as forward Jacques Francois snuck a pass through for midfielder Michael Reed to tap in just before the goalkeeper could grab it, but long-range goals from Roy Meeus and Didier Crettenand just before and after halftime left SAFC down 2-1.
SAFC equalized in the 73rd minute though as Francois slid the ball across the face of goal for newly-acquired forward Franck Tayou to redirect from point-blank range. Defender Milton Palacios scored the winning goal for SAFC in the 80th minute as he finished off a well-timed and -placed through ball from midfielder Carlos Alvarez, giving SAFC its first pair of consecutive wins in club history.
San Antonio FC 2-0 Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2 (July 16, 2016 – first attempt)
Capping off a hot streak in the midst of their inaugural season, SAFC defeated top-of-the-table Vancouver the only time the clubs met in 2016. Goalkeeper Matt Cardone made the first of multiple penalty kick saves that season midway through the first half before Castillo converted from the spot midway through the second to get SAFC on the board. Tayou provided an insurance goal in second-half stoppage time as he latched onto a lobbed ball and rifled it into the bottom left corner.
San Antonio FC 3-2 Arizona United SC (Aug. 17, 2016 – second attempt)*
Four days after Arizona United SC scored the only goal at home against SAFC, the two sides came to Toyota Field for a rematch which saw SAFC win that time. Alvarez gave SAFC the lead in the 32nd minute as he latched onto a through ball from midfielder Sebastien Thuriere and poked it into the net as two defenders and the goalkeeper converged on him. Tayou doubled SAFC’s lead 11 minutes later with a precise finish into the bottom right corner.
Forward Luke Rooney cut the lead in half for the visitors as he blasted a shot into the top left corner just before halftime, but SAFC doubled their lead again and scored what turned out to be the winning goal in the 56th minute as forward Cesar Elizondo rifled a shot from the top of the box into the bottom left corner. Rooney doubled his tally for the night from the penalty spot in the 87th minute, but a subsequent equalizer never came.
Saint Louis FC 0-2 San Antonio FC (Aug. 27, 2016 – first attempt)
As he had against Vancouver the previous month, Cardone saved a penalty kick to help SAFC to a 2-0 win, though by the time he came up big in second-half stopapge time, SAFC had already scored the goals they needed. The goals in question were two elegant chips from Thuriere in the 12th minute and Castillo in first-half stoppage time before Cardone and the SAFC defense locked down the scoreline in the second half.
Rio Grande Valley FC Toros 0-1 San Antonio FC (March 26, 2017 – fifth attempt)
RGVFC was the team SAFC took the second-most matches to defeat, but finally bested their Texas rivals in both clubs’ opening match of 2017 and the first competitive match at H-E-B Park in Edinburg, Texas. As part of his hot start to the season, midfielder Billy Forbes smashed in the only goal of the match in the 15th minute after Elizondo cut a ball back to him in the box. After that, the fabled 2017 SAFC defense thwarted one attempt at an equalizer after another for the rest of the match.
San Antonio FC 3-0 LA Galaxy II (April 1, 2017 – third attempt)
SAFC continued to cruise early in the 2017 season and finally matched the three-goal margin from their first-ever match in their 2017 home opener. Forbes was denied twice in the 12th minute before cutting the ball for Castillo to smash in. Reed doubled SAFC’s lead in the 29th minute as he poked in a squared ball which took a deflection but still trickled in. Forbes raced forward and tacked on the third goal in the 77th minute as LA again got a piece of the shot but it crossed the line nonetheless.
San Antonio FC 4-0 Reno 1868 FC (April 15, 2017 – first attempt)
As they have in both of their seasons now, Reno got off to a slow start and SAFC capitalized in the clubs’ first-ever meeting in 2017. Forbes outfoxed a Reno player on the far sideline and dribbled toward goal, finishing the move he started by sliding the ball into the bottom corner in the 34th minute.
Elizondo bagged a brace with two deft touches to first finish off a perfect through ball from Forbes in the 67th minute and then execute a light chip in the 79th minute. Castillo handed SAFC it’s biggest win to date with a penalty kick in second-half stoppage time after talented young midfielder Devin Vega was brought down in the box.
Portland Timbers 2 0-4 San Antonio FC (April 28, 2017 – second attempt)
SAFC ended a perfect Pacific Northwest road trip and matched their best-ever win with a counterattacking masterclass. Finishing off an attack which sprang from a Portland mistake in midfield, Forbes cut inside and blasted the ball in to open the scoring and give SAFC the only goal they really needed in the 20th minute, Elizondo doubled SAFC’s lead in the 34th minute as he pounced on a weak attempt at clearing a Forbes cross.
SAFC doubled their lead again in stoppage time, first with Elizondo winning a ball in midfield, Vega dribbling forward and playing it across for midfielder Zachary Herivaux to slot it home, then Elizondo got on the end of a lobbed ball, rounded the goalkeeper and calmly slid the ball into an open net to make it 4-0.
San Antonio FC 1-0 Sacramento Republic FC (May 6, 2017 – second attempt)
Sacramento came to Toyota Field for the first time in May 2017 in a match where both sides had chances and either could have taken all three points. SAFC would lay claim to them though as Castillo again converted from the penalty spot in the 64th minute after forward AJ Ajeakwa was taken down while chasing a lobbed ball, and the SAFC defense delivered the clean sheet which was required.
Swope Park Rangers 0-1 San Antonio FC (May 26, 2017 – fourth attempt)
In the midst of a run in which SAFC held their USL opponents scoreless for seven straight matches, SAFC grabbed their first and only win over a Swope Park team who has constantly been a thorn in their side. Another match in which they were under constant pressure but won thanks to clinical counterattacking, Mark O’Ojong headed in the only goal in the 53rd minute off a cross from fellow midfielder Kris Tyrpak.
Real Monarchs SLC 1-2 San Antonio FC (Sept. 2, 2017 – third attempt)
SAFC snatched three points away to the one team who finished ahead of them in the USL West standings in 2017, but they left it very late. Midfielder Sebastian Saucedo opened the scoring for Real in the 55th minute as he kept the ball alive on the sideline, cut inside and fired inside the far post.
Things looked bleak for SAFC until a pair of late Reed free kicks were redirected into the net. The first set piece deflected off the head of defender Taylor Peay in the 88th minute for an own goal, then in second-half stoppage time McCarthy powerfully headed a ball into the ground and over the goal line to steal all three points late.
Images: Darren Abate, USL
Las Vegas Lights FC 1-3 San Antonio FC (April 27, 2018 – first attempt)
What happens in Vegas doesn’t always stay in Vegas, as SAFC discovered when they visited the newcomer and brought home all three points. Forward Ever Guzman flicked a ball for midfielder Sonny Guadarrama to run onto before it was played back across goal for Guzman to poke home in the 17th minute. Midfielder Jose Escalante doubled SAFC’s lead in the 33rd minute, poking the ball in after bringing down defender Darnell King’s cross from the right flank.
Escalante drew a penalty kick for SAFC, which was converted, predictably, by Castillo in the 51st minute. Lining up against SAFC this time, Alvarez clawed one goal back for the hosts in the 75th minute, rifling a ball into the bottom of the net as it bobbled in the box, but the scoreline held firm from that point on.
San Antonio FC 2-1 Fresno FC (May 5, 2018 – second attempt)
SAFC had been lucky to escape from their first ever match against Fresno with a point on the road just a few weeks earlier, but this time they fought hard at home to get all three points. In his first professional start, Alex Bruce was in the right place at the right time to open the scoring with a 20th-minute tap-in which was the difference at halftime.
Midfielder Jemal Johnson smashed in the equalizer for Fresno in the 62nd minute though after forward Rodolfo cleverly backheeled the ball into his path. Bad luck befell the visitors just five minutes later as a long-range strike from SAFC midfielder Sonny Guadarrama bounced off the post and the back of Fresno goalkeeper Kyle Reynish for the decisive goal.
Oklahoma City Energy FC 1-2 San Antonio FC (July 28, 2018 – ninth attempt)
Taking two and a half years and nine tries to win this fixture makes SAFC’s record against OKC sound worse than it actually is. In reality, the matchup was always tight as the sides drew seven of their first eight matches against each other and neither ever scored more than a single goal in one match. OKC won one match outright in May 2016 and won a penalty kick shootout after a draw in the 2017 USL playoffs.
Things changed on Saturday. OKC took the lead in the 58th minute thanks to a stellar free kick from midfielder Philip Rasmussen. With Castillo out due to injury, it was up to Mikey Lopez to equalize via a penalty kick for SAFC in the 73rd minute after midfielder Connor Presley was brought down in the box a minute earlier. Guzman gave SAFC the first multiple-goal game in the series when he tapped in a dangerous cross from midfielder Charlie Ward in the 81st minute, and that ended up deciding the match as SAFC kept OKC from getting back on level terms.
In this retrospective look at SAFC’s wins, it’s probably fair to say the defense hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves. It’s been important for SAFC, and at times good, but to slightly modify one of SAFC Head Coach Darren Powell’s favorite sayings, goals win games.
And while SAFC will likely have more shots at beating OKC in the future, wins against teams like Las Vegas and Fresno in the first few chances SAFC had were important as the USL might perhaps someday consider really doing the long-rumored three-conference thing.
*SAFC won matches against the Orange County Blues and Arizona United SC before the clubs rebranded to Orange County SC and Phoenix Rising FC, respectively, under new ownership