Toyota Field, San Antonio, Texas
What a game. What a game! When the starting XI and Substitute announcement came out there was some doubt as whether or not SAFC would be up to the task against a good OKC Energy club. The midfield corps was looking thin. Both Jack Barmby and Moises Hernandez sat out for yellow card accumulation, and injuries have kept Maguraushe, Gallegos and Laing from suiting up.
Rafa Castillo was announced in the starting XI for the first time in 2019. Castillo had been absent from the roster for much of the year and was not seen training for an extended period of time. Speculation among fans and media was if Rafa was injured, although no injury report ever officially named Castillo injured or if he was being retired by the club.
Rafa Castillo proved he still has the dragon fire, the beast within him to be a game changer. When Rafa’s name was announced during the starting line-ups, the crowd gave its loudest cheer. From minute one you could see this was a different team that we had seen all season. Pressing and aggressive, keeping OKC on their back heels much of the night with Rafa on the pitch. It didnt take long for Rafa to score his first goal of the season with a beautiful pass from Crisitian Parano, Parano fooled Codi Laurendi enough to make him think he was taking a shot but found a open Rafa for an emotional first goal and set the tone for the rest of the match.
Frank Lopez scored his 12 overall goal, Parano’s second assist fed Lopez. An own goal by Atiba Harris from a Rafa Castillo free kick made it 3-0. After Rafa Castillo was subbed in, SAFC fell back and played more defensively. The result, a penalty and the lead cut down to 3-1.
Tony Taylor made his debut and we saw the return of Ryan Roushandel, shifted his role from assistant coach back to player and come on late in the match. It was good see Ryan come on the pitch and fans were happy to see him play.
With Rafa Castillo being such a game changer and clearly has the stamina to at least play 60 or so minutes, why hasn’t he been used more often. A good question for Head Coach Darren Powell, who seemed to go with youth over experience early on in the season at the midfield position. Rafa, at 39, may not be an every match starter but he can make a difference late in matches or be a spot starter with a good 60 to 70 minutes of play in him. Although, Rafa looks physically like he can handle 90 plus minutes.
So in the end, a feel good win, puts SAFC right back into the mix that is the USL Western Conference playoff hunt. San Antonio currently sits in 10th separated by three points from 6th place where the Real Monarchs sit. SAFC travels next to Cali for a date with Los Dos who are just two points above SAFC in the 9th spot. Every match is important and must win. If SAFC can remain even keel after winning big emotional matches and regain focus, they will be able to get three points in LA.