There is a well-worn saying that soccer is a cruel sport. Nowhere is this more appropriate than when games are ultimately decided by penalty shootouts. Saturday night at Toyota Field San Antonio FC (SAFC) was the latest to experience the bitterness of this adage when they lost a United Soccer League Western Conference Semifinal match to OKC Energy (1-1: 4-1 penalties).
“It’s tough, the season’s over, not much to say, I am just sad that it’s over; we’re upset”, said SAFC midfielder Ryan Roushandel. “Obviously, it’s just not a good result. Hearts are broken, broken for the club, the organization, the fans, everybody. But it’s the cruelest way to end in a game of sports, I think”.
SAFC head coach Darren Powell’s post-game comments also reflected this feeling. “I’m bitterly disappointed for all of those players in that locker room…It goes down to penalty kicks and it becomes a lottery, and we didn’t win that lottery tonight.”
To make the result even harder to accept, SAFC was 5 minutes and stoppage time away from winning the match in regulation. Sustained pressure from OKC in the second half was rewarded as Wojciech Wojcik elevated above SAFC defender Steven McCarthy to head home a cross from Energy FC leading scorer and reigning USL Player of the Month Jose Angulo, leveling the score at one. SAFC had taken a somewhat fortunate early lead when Cesar Elizondo’s 8th minute shot from outside the penalty area was deflected and eventually trickled across the line past Energy FC goalkeeper C.J. Cochrane’s diving attempt at a save.
30 minutes of added extra-time did not produce a winner, so the cruel penalty shootout was required to determine a winner. Both teams had good opportunities to win the match in extra-time, but over the course of the match Energy FC had more chances, especially in the second half. OKC outshot SAFC 21-7 and maintained much of the possession late in the second half as they sought the goal that eventually came to tie the match. After Energy FC leveled, SAFC introduced fan-favorite midfielder Rafa Castillo, playing his first match after a long injury layoff, to provide more of an attacking edge. His quality passing led to an almost immediate opportunity to score and livened up the attack through extra-time, though the game winner never came.
SAFC and Energy FC played 3 low scoring regular season games in 2017 that all ended up in ties, so it was no surprise that 120 minutes of soccer produced 2 goals and ended up in penalties. OKC Energy made all four kicks that were required to win as SAFC’s Ever Guzman and Michael Reed’s poor attempts were saved by Cochrane. Energy FC’s Anthony Wallace calmly slammed the ball into the left side of the net in the 4th and final round of the shootout to send OKC to the Western Conference Finals.
OKC Energy now advance to the finals to play Swope Park Rangers in the Western Conference Finals this Saturday. The 4th seeded Rangers find themselves hosting an unlikely second consecutive conference final after also benefiting from higher seeds losing last year.
For SAFC the season ends a few steps short of the Championship goal. Roushandel took the long approach to evaluating the season despite the bitter loss. “I think after a few days, like you said, we kind of let it all sink in. From last year to this year, obviously it’s a good, good step forward. Obviously we’re going in the right direction, we’re on the up and up.”
A 17-4-11 record and second round playoff appearance during only their second season, combined with a league best defense and only a single home loss all year, provide a solid base for a successful 2018 season and run at the elusive championship.