SAFC: End of Season Review

2020 has left us with many uncertainties. One thing is for certain; the 2020 campaign for San Antonio FC is over. San Antonio FC did make the playoffs for the first time since 2017 but bowed out in the first round after 1-0 loss to New Mexico United. Time to recap the highs and lows of the 2020 season.

Life in B.C (before Covid-19)

The off season was a stir as the roster was seemingly rebuilt from the ground up. Alen Marcina, named head coach this season, looked far and wide to build his squad. Only a handful of players returned from the 2019 season; Parano, Greene, Yaro, Gallegos and Cardone. We saw signings of MLS veterans; Solignac, Herivaux and Maloney. Some movement from overseas, Bailone, Di Renzo, Santi, PC and some USL veterans from rivals, Partain, Taintor and Chuy. We saw a roster mixed with experience and youth from the academy.

The big concern at the time was if this team would mesh together, the roster looked promising to make a run to the top of the USL Western Conference table. Alen Marcina assured that the playing style would be vastly different from years prior and that this team had the not only the talent but the right mentality and attitude to mesh well and be successful. The first unofficial look of the squad was during a season ticket holder event where San Antonio FC revealed the new home kits.

Jose Gallegos scores a preseason goal vs FC Dallas

Our first real look at the team and their first real test of the 2020 campaign was a friendly against MLS side FC Dallas. An exciting well played match that saw most of FC Dallas’ first team play and did not take this match lightly. It was a tight high scoring match, FC Dallas would win 3-2 but it should how much grit and determination San Antonio FC had coming into the 2020 season. We saw first hand the high flying, high pressure style of Alen Marcina’s 3-5-2 system.

The anticipation was high for the first match of the regular season as San Antonio FC faced the defending USL Champions, Real Monarchs. The bar was going to be set early, in week one. The opening day match at home was a tight one but Callum Montgomery (FC Dallas Loanee) scored the first goal of San Antonio FC’s season and the match winner, setting the precedent to what was supposed to come. Week 2 was supposed to be a tough road trip to Colorado Springs to face the Switchbacks, a team without much success but always play tough at home due to it’s high elevation in the Colorado Rocky Mountains. Many were looking to a quick 2-0-0 start and get a jump on the USL Western Conference table.

Then IT happened (The Shutdown)

As the 2020 USL Championship season started, an unknown virus was creeping across America and much of the World. During Week 1 of the USL regular season, Coronavirus (Covid 19) was hitting the headlines and while it hadn’t reach pandemic levels early in the year, it was a new virus with no known cure and not much was known about it effects. After the victory over the Real Monarchs, it seems business as usual for the USL and San Antonio FC but by March 12th, everything would change….

The announcement came that all major sport leagues were temporarily suspending their seasons, the NCAA cancelled the men’s and women’s basketball Final Four tournaments, high schools across the nation also cancelled or suspended sports. Some had hope to return in a couple weeks to about a month, experts where warning that it could be months to a year before sports could resume.

It was no longer about sports or entertainment, the stoppage was to help prevent the spread and save lives. Alen Marcina and San Antonio FC were in uncertain times, there was no guarantee the season would resume and the Alamo City Boys would have to adjust to a new style of life along with the rest of us, the Quarantine Life. They maintained contact and still had team meetings via online video services, they weren’t able to train together on the pitch or go to the gym for strength training, leading the squad to find creative ways to keep in shape in their homes for the next few months.

The USL Championship would update it’s moratorium every couple weeks during the months of March, April and May. They, like much of the major sports leagues around the world kept their seasons on hold until there was more understanding of the situation and when it was deemed safe to return to play not only by the leagues but by local and higher government officials.

The Return to Play

While we have yet to reach life after Covid-19, there was sense of hope to somewhat normalcy. The USL Championship announced on June 4th that it was looking to resume the season July 11th but the season would look different from anything in USL history. While some leagues sent teams into a bubble, NBA to finish it’s season and playoffs as well as MLS for it’s “MLS is Back” tournament, the USL decided to make let each club play on its home turf and regionalize matches by placing teams into groups. The result was a shortened and altered season. The goal was to minimize air travel and keep the players safe. Clubs traveled in buses to away locations and stayed in single occupancy rooms to minimize contact. No fans were allowed to attend during the restart but it was up local clubs with the advice of local officials to determine when it would be safe to allow fans back.

With the USL Championship setting the guidelines and placing teams in regional groups, the season was ready for restart. San Antonio FC was placed in Group D along with Austin Bold, Rio Grande Valley Toros, Oklahoma City Energy and FC Tulsa. First step to get back on track for SAFC was to win the group outright. San Antonio FC would keep it’s result from Match Day One and play 15 matches to finish out the season.

The first test was a back to back, home and home series with RGV Toros which ended in a draw in the opener and three points on the road. San Antonio FC would go to start the season undefeated and hit an 11 match unbeaten streak.

photo by San Antonio FC

After 182 days, fans were finally able to return to the stadium in limited numbers. It was new normal with face masks and social distancing being the norm, Toyota Field staff members did an excellent job to keep the stadium sanitized and ensure fans remained safe. A huge thank you to the Toyota Field staff for everything during challenging times. The fans were gifted with a beautiful record breaking goal from Luis Solignac, a club record breaking goal less than a minute into the match versus RGV FC.

Objective Accomplished

San Antonio FC won the Group by a good margin, was never really challenged for the top spot for much of the season and all seemed like season would end up with an undefeated record, until El Paso Locomotive derailed SAFC’s hopes of season without a loss. San Antonio FC did struggle down the stretch, losing three of the last five matches. All losses away to El Paso, and a two match losing streak to end the regular season at FC Tulsa and Austin Bold.

Report Card on the Regular Season

San Antonio FC for much of the season ran like a well oiled machine, a few tweaks in personal being the biggest changes. St. Clair and Montgomery were recalled at different points of the season. Jesus Enriquez was released by the club as he joined Reno 1868, SAFC added Jordan Perruza on loan from Toronto FC and Ethan Bryant made his return to the club after a stint in Europe.

SAFC did what it needed to do and won the group. Some critics will say the group was easy, no other team in Group D was really a challenge. But the top clubs of each group had to face weaker competition. Compared to all eight groups in the USL, we rank Group D as the third overall weakest. FC Tulsa and Austin Bold were tougher teams then much give credit for. They played other to three draws this seasons and cancelled each other out in group play but each club was able to steal a victory from SAFC.

Alen Marcina – First year at the helm of San Antonio FC, Marcina did an excellent job scouting bringing a mix of youth from the academy, USL/MLS veterans and international talent to form a well rounded squad and meshed well together. Alen had laid a strong foundation and philosophy the players believe in. His objectives were clear and everyone was on the same page. Tactically, we like what we saw. A different style from previous years, a team that high pressed, wingers that would fall back and play defense and scored plenty and often in group play. The club had opportunity to win every match this year.

The Forwards – The depth chart for the forwards was the deepest in SAFC history. All the Forwards recorded at least two goals, Luis Solignac lead the club with 8 Goals, and the Forwards accounted for 19 of the 30 Goals this season. The Forwards had an excellent season, unfortunately the goals dried up at the wrong time, only 1 goal in the last two regular season matches and playoffs (3 matches or 300 minutes) led to the demise of SAFC’s postseason hopes.

The Midfielders – Of the 7 Midfielders listed on the roster, 3 saw significant minutes. With Victor “PC” Giro logging in 1,374 minutes. Parano logged in just over 1,000 minutes, almost 400 minutes less than Blake Smith, who led the team. Parano was able to get rest because the depth of the forwards and midfielders. Zachary Herivaux led the team in passing with an accuracy of 90.4 %. PC had the most tackles won with 28. The midfield was anchored for most the season with Herivaux and PC at Centre Mid.

Herivaux was out for the last part of the season and we saw opposing clubs defenses put pressure on Parano and Gallegos by double, sometimes triple teaming the duo. SAFC seemingly was unable to adjust down the stretch and was in part the reason for the first round playoff exit.

Parano tripled team by NMU, photo by Soy SAF

The Defense – Although officially 3 defenders were listed in the Starting XI for much of the season, with Montgomery, Taintor and Yaro, Blake Smith and Connor Maloney were defenders playing out in the wings and would easily fall back to defend if needed to create a 5 man defensive wall. The 3 defenders would sometimes lead to easy goals and is something Alen Marcina will need to remedy for 2021. This is easily ranked the second best defense behind the 2017 edition.

Goalkeepers – We saw two starting keepers this season. Minnesota United Loanee, Dayne St. Clair started the first 5 regular season matches and lead the team in save percentage with 80%. Matt Cardone stepped in after St. Clair was recalled back to Minnesota United and led the team with 4 Clean Sheets and 33 Saves total.

Photo by Soy SAF

Was the Season a Success?

San Antonio FC hit it’s objective to make the playoffs and win Group D. It was a bitter loss to New Mexico in Extra Time on a controversial goal, which appeared to be handball by goal scorer Christopher Wehan. Making the playoffs was a step up from the previous three years. So making the playoffs after a long layoff can be considered success. The roster was extremely talented and played well for much of the season and should of gone at least to the Western Conference final. Next year, another first round exit will not do. SAFC’s needs to reach the Western Conference final at minimum next year. 2021 will be an important year for San Antonio FC as it will have to not only face some tough competition in the West, but will have to deal with a emerging MLS market in Austin. SAFC will be battling for the top of table as well as relevancy in the Central Texas Sports Market. We hope that majority of the squad returns, So Alen Marcina can build on this season without having to start over from scratch again. We expect a few to move on, but we will speculate at a later date on who goes and who stays. This team was fun to watch and have potential to win it all in 2021.

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