San Antonio, TX – Miguel Padilla
San Antonio FC has completed their first third of the 2019 season. Through 11 matches, we have enough of a sample size to see what kind of team San Antonio FC is. While SAFC has shown flashes of it should be, there are plenty of glaring flaws holding this club back.
Fans have been grumbling and disappointed on how the season has started; sighting lack of goals, tactical decisions and lack of points. Some are calling for changes.
As it stands, with 33 percent of the season complete, San Antonio is sitting in 16th place at 3 wins, 3 draws and 5 losses with 12 points. It’s the second worse record in SAFC history only better to the 2016 inaugural season when SAFC had 11 points through 11 matches. Historically SAFC has never made much of run after week 11, so playoff hopes look bleak at this point. In the 2016 inaugural season, SAFC was in 12th after week 11 and finished 10th, 2017 in 1st and finished 2nd and 2018 in 9th and finished 9th.
Recapping the offseason, preseason and Matches 1-11
The 2019 season started with much excitement. In the offseason, SAFC made several moves as the entire defense was replaced and was highlighted by the signing of Amer Didic. Lance Laing, who impressed while on loan, signed a contract to stay in San Antonio. Departure of Diego Restrepo was welcomed by many fans as they wanted to see Matt Cardone remain the number 1 GK after he was named starter for the last part of the 2018 season. Cristian Parano, a wunderkind from Argentina, signed on, and quickly impressed with his potential on the pitch. SAFC #defend210 hashtag and graffiti night among other events to connect with the community and fans had a buzz that this may be the year to finish high on the table and make a deep playoff run.
The season started with a high powered match up with Phoenix Rising and ended in a 3-3 draw. It was a SAFC team that tactically looked aggressive and although it ended in a draw at the time it was an acceptable result. It was against a club that finished 3rd in the table and 2nd in scoring in the USL West during the 2018 season.
SAFC didn’t a win a match until April 6th against Las Vegas Lights at home and haven’t been very consistent since. There were two away losses in which San Antonio looked outmatched and the defense collapsed. SAFC carried a 2-0 lead over Real Monarchs well into the second half but two penalties helped Real Monarchs surge back and stole three points. A 3-0 loss in Albuquerque saw San Antonio FC look unfocused, uncomfortable and uncertain throughout the match. The last two matches have ended draws at home with Orange County and Tulsa. None of the wins have impressed as the wins have come against teams ranked 10th or lower in the table.
In the middle of all that, Amer Didic was released from the club after only playing 2 matches which was a head scratcher to many as Didic is a talented defender. Didic ended up signing with a club in the newly formed Canadian Premier League. SAFC added Moises Hernandez on loan from FC Dallas but he is now out with a lower body injury and added Brian Gomez, who has been one of the few bright spots this season.
Let’s start with the coaching.
Darren Powell, in his 4th season with SAFC, is off to a rocky start. There have been questions by fans and pundits about constant changes in lineups, uses and lack of use of substitutions along with the benching of Lance Laing and Ever Guzman for a few matches. Laing, a winger, has returned to the starting XI as a left back in the last two matches, although Eboussi is an available and effective defender. Laing has made the best of it, with some beautifully placed crosses that quickly switched the field and extended possessions. There were many questions on Powell’s decision to go with a 3-4-3, while it seemed like a more potent style, SAFC came out exposed and empty handed quite a bit. Since the change to a 4-3-3 and at times 4-1-4-1, play and defense has improved through the last 2 matches. Consistency in the Starting XI is what many think will be the key for SAFC’s improved play and attack.
The misuse of Cristian Parano.
There is absolutely no doubt, that Parano possesses raw talent to be a great soccer player, a speedy midfielder who can dribble a poor defender one on one out of his shoes. The flaw in Parano’s game is that he still needs to develop as an overwhelming number of possessions have died at his feet. Although he does get fouled quite a bit, it does not offset the fact that Parano does not identify open players quickly as he sucks in multiple defenders leaving teammates open to continue the play. Parano ends up on the ground too many times and is at risk for injury coming up against larger, physical defenders. If Parano can identify open players and make effective passes while under duress, it will open up SAFC’s attack, increasing chances for goal and make defenders hesitate on how to cover Parano.
Solution would be is to have Parano as a late sub and eventually work his way back to the starting XI. He could come in for the last 20 to 30 minutes to wreck havoc on weary defenders late in matches. Parano still needs to develop and learn. He has a high talent ceiling but having him play a full 90+ match after match may be hurting him right now. Replace Parano with Laing in midfield and have Eubossi start while Hernandez is out.
SAFC Defense inconsistent
The defense has given up 3 goals on four different matches this season, only getting one point with the season opener 3-3 draw vs Phoenix. Cardone has recorded 3 clean sheets this season. The defense has improved over the last two matches after the 3-0 defeat at New Mexico. Giving up one goal against two good clubs in Orange County and Tulsa. The improvement in recent play came as the switch was made back to having 4 defenders. Amer Didic has departed, Moises Hernandez is out with an injury and Lance Laing has stepped up as left back with Fenwick and Eboussi as options off the bench.
Matt Cardone has 1.5 Goals Against average with 3 clean sheets in 10 matches. Has made some spectacular saves, including a USL save of the week. Outside of the New Mexico match, Cardone’s play has been extremely effective over the last 4 matches.
Solution: SAFC’s defense looks to be finally gelling in the last couple weeks, Kai Greene has taken leadership of the back line and works well with four in the back, along with Cardone’s recent play, the defense should continue to improve but it needs to have results against clubs at the top of the table.
The one thing San Antonio FC’s offense needed to differentiate from previous editions was to score and score a lot. Ever Guzman and Lance Laing returned for the 2019 season also adding Billy Forbes and Jack Barmby in the off season. Bradford Jamieson IV came in on loan from LA Galaxy and Brian Gomez signed once the season started. With all the potential fire power SAFC still struggles to find the back of the net. Currently ranked 19th in the entire league with 14 goals. SAFC has to find a way to get into the top 10 in offense if they think they can have any chance at a playoff run. Four players are currently tied for the goal lead with 3.
Brian Gomez has been a bright spot for SAFC. In 8 appearances with the club, Gomez has 3 goals and 3 assists with 9 Shots on Goal and is poised for many more.
Solution: The 3 up front is a good look for SAFC, but the front three attackers have to find a way to consistently find the back of the net. The optimal front 3 would be Jamieson IV, Guzman and Gomez. A bright spot for the offense is that SAFC is ranked 8th in total shots in the USL but it has to improve their conversion rate which sits at an abysmal 11 percent compared to league leaders New Mexico United’s 25 percent.
SAFC’s midfield find itself in the top 10 in passing accuracy at 79 percent and tied for 7th in the league. Jack Barmby has been the anchor and the midfield corps has played well overall.
Barmby leads the club with 23 chances created, Michael Lahoud leads in passing accuracy with a 89.2 percent. The passing as whole is more forward oriented compared to previous years as almost 38 percent of passes are forward. Crosses are part of the game the squad needs to work on as they are 27 for 119 on cross attempts. Lang is the best on being able to switch the field on crosses. If SAFC can work on improving accuracy and when to effectively time the cross that will give the front three more scoring chances.
Solution: Work on crosses and continue to use Barmby and Parano in the middle.
All is not lost
Good news, if there is any while sitting at 16th, is the USL Western Conference table is still hotly contested, 6 points separate the top 10 playoff teams. SAFC does find itself 5 points from the bottom but they are only 5 points from 4th place at Week 11. SAFC has played well over the last two matches and seem to be on an uptick. No team has truly got hot yet, only El Paso is undefeated in the last 5 with 2 wins and 3 draws. But time to discover and see what works is quickly falling by the wayside. Now is time for results and if SAFC can’t get into a winning streak and maximizing points in the next 5 matches, the season may be lost.