The 2020 USL Championship season is restarting on July 11th; for San Antonio FC, Match Day 2 won’t be until July 17th versus Rio Grande Valley. By the time San Antonio FC takes the pitch once again against Rio Grande Valley at HEB Park in Edinburg it will have been 18 weeks and 6 days since their last game, a 1-0 victory over USL Championship defending champions, Real Monarchs.
The USL had to make some adjustments to the schedule, group realignment, playoff structure, some rule changes and safety protocols for players and staff to resume the 2020 season.
USL Changes to the 2020 season
After weeks of not knowing if and when the USL Championship season would resume, the USL began unveiling its plan to return to play on June 24rd with the substitution rule. USL Championship clubs will be allowed five substitutions per match with three opportunities to make its substitutions during regular play. Substitutions may also be made at halftime without counting against a club’s three in-game opportunities.
The season was shortened to 16 games and teams were placed in regional groups to minimize travel and increase player safety. San Antonio FC was placed in group D with Austin Bold FC, Oklahoma City Energy FC, Rio Grande Valley Toros and FC Tulsa.
For the playoffs, this year the number of participants were reduced from ten in each conference to eight. The top two from each group will qualify for the post season. Eights teams from each conference will face each depending how they finish in group play. The winner of Group D will play runner up of Group C and the runner up of Group D will face the Group C winner in the first round of the playoffs.
The USL also release it’s protocols for health and wellness. Both players and staff must abide to the following:
1. SOCIAL DISTANCING
2. PERSONAL PROTECTIVE EQUIPMENT AND SANITIZATION
5. TRAINING AND EDUCATION
San Antonio FC Schedule
The USL season for San Antonio FC will now be 16 matches, with the first match versus Real Monarchs back on March 7th counting in the standings. San Antonio FC will face the same four opponents from Group D fourteen times and will face El Paso Locomotive once in an away match in September. SAFC will play seven at home and eight away. San Antonio FC first match back will be July 17th at RGV has part of a home and home series, first home game is July 25th. As of right now, no fans will be attending matches, although that may change in the coming weeks with guidance from local and federal authorities.
SAFC Players to Watch
Cristian Parano – 2019 stats – 7 Goals 6 Assists
Parano is coming off a spectacular 2019 first season with San Antonio FC. He won the 2019 USL Youth Player of the Year award, scored some amazing goals and looked poised for a great 2020 season. Some concerns will be his health, can Parano stay healthy for the entire season after being knicked up with some knee injuries at the end of last season and was sidelined to begin the year. Will Parano have a sophomore slump or will he reach double digit goals in 2020?
Jose Gallegos – 2019 stats – 1 Goal 1 Assist
Many soccer expert circles have their eyes on Jose Gallegos. He won a TAPPS Div I state championship all four years he was at Central Catholic. He re-signed with SAFC in Feb 2020 shortly after winning the state championship. Gallegos was committed to attend and play for NC State in the fall of 2020 but announced he would remain a professional and forego college for now. He scored against FC Dallas in the preseason friendly back in February. Gallegos played an outstanding game versus the Real Monarchs, coming close to scoring and creating some assists early in that game. We project Gallegos to get plenty of minutes as both a starter and sub. Marcina will have options to tinker with the starting XI when they play short turn around games on the schedule.
Luis Solignac – 2019 stats – DNP
Solignac is an Argentine striker that signed from MLS side Chicago Fire. He was the Fire potential stiker of the future but had a quad injury in 2018 kept him sidelined for much of eight weeks and did not start much after his return from injury. Solignac is now looking for a second chance to restart his career, he coming into his prime years and is a smart striker. Solignac could come close to breaking the SAFC single season goal even with the shortened season, he has the talent, skill and size to dominate.
The SAFC roster currently holds 29 players on the roster:
Matt Cardone, Dayne St. Clair, Carlos Mercado
Eby Ackon, Blake Smith. Hunter Gorskie, Connor Maloney, Joshua Yaro, Kai Greene, Sebastian Mercado, Mitchell Taintor, Jacob Castro, Josh Ramsey, Axel Sjöberg, Callum Montgomery
Santiago Viera, Jesus Enriquez, Hayden Partain, PC, Leo Torres, Zachary Herivaux, Cristian Parano, Rocky Perez
Gonzalo Di Renzo, Luis Solignac, Ignacio Bailone, Jose Gallegos, Fabrizio Bernal, Tabort Etaka Preston
Expected Formation: 3-5-2
Expected Regular Starting XI:
GK: Matt Cardone
Defense: Maloney, Smith, Montgomery, Sjöberg, Taintor
Midfield: Parano, PC, Enriquez
Forwards: Solignac, Di Renzo
San Antonio FC will have a difficult but winnable group. The biggest challenge is the adjustment to the shorten schedule. Instead of playing for a top 10 spot in a 18 team Western Conference, SAFC will have to battle it out for one of two playoff spots in group D, good news is SAFC does have a win to start the season.
Oklahoma City FC added Charlie Ward from Ottawa Fury and striker Frank Lopez from SAFC during the off season. OKC is looking to improve thier offense after finishing 15th in 2019. OKC lost 2-1 in their season opener against Colorado Springs.
FC Tulsa went through a rebrand, finished the 2019 unbeaten in their last 7 of 10 matches. FC Tulsa also missed the playoffs last year. FC Tulsa resigned Cyprian Hedrick and Matt Sheldon to bolster the defense and added Rodrigo Da Costa to creat some goals. FC Tulsa has one point to begin the season with a 1-1 draw versus Sacramento.
Austin Bold is coming off making it to the second round of the 2019 USL playoffs, losing to Phoenix 7-6 on penalties. The Bold added Billy Forbes to join Diego Restrepo, Kris Tyrpak and Sonny Guadarrama as former SAFC players on the Austin squad. Austin gained three points in their opening match of the season with a 1-0 win over New Mexico United.
RGVFC although they haven’t had much success recently, is still a tough team to play cause of the South Texas Derby. The Toros seem to be in turmoil as it was announced the hybrid partnership with the Houston Dynamo is ending after this season, they lost of some their most talented players with Jesus Enriquez joining SAFC in the offseason. RGVFC lost 5-1 to Los Dos in the season opener.
San Antonio FC and coach Alen Marcina rebuilt this squad during the offseason. Marcina looked far and wide to get the right players for his system. The squad look good in they home opener victory, a good mix of experience and youth. After 18 weeks, SAFC will have a short time to rebuild and gel what they had during game one. Every team in the group have the same challenges but the other teams in group D have a good number core players from last season. SAFC only have 7 players returning from the 2019 roster. Every training session hold more importance and egos will have to set aside as the players look to get into the starting XI and get crucial minutes in a shortened season. San Antonio FC has the talent on paper to win the group and make a deep run into the playoffs.