2018 began with high hopes for San Antonio FC. A solid base of returning players expressed a quiet confidence during preseason that they were ready to improve on the successful second place 2017 finish. Unfortunately, the season never really got untracked. An early 3-0 home loss to Orange County SC pointed to concerns, especially on the defensive side of the field, that persisted over the course of the season. Consistency was also an issue all year. A four game winning streak in July and early August was followed by a four game losing streak. SAFC then went on another winning streak-this time three matches-capped by an impressive home victory over USL Cup Finalists Phoenix Rising. What appeared to be reinvigorated playoff hopes were dashed when three consecutive road losses in a week-long span in September put the team in a catch-up mode for the remainder of the season. The gap was never closed and SAFC finished the season in 9th place, 3 points out of a playoff spot.
A 19-player roster, 11 new faces among them, began the 2019 journey at the STAR Soccer Complex in San Antonio, next to Toyota Field their home stadium, earlier today. Notable roster returnees include two players who have been with SAFC since the 2016 beginning: goalkeeper Matt Cardone and the ageless midfielder Rafa Castillo. Brazilian midfielder Pecka has been there since the beginning of 2017. Returning to San Antonio are Billy Forbes, who was the leading SAFC scorer in 2017, and Colombian Walter Restrepo who played with the now defunct 2014 NASL Champion San Antonio Scorpions.
In 2019 they will joined by a new mix of experienced USL players, including former Rio Grande Valley FC defender Kai Greene. Two of the new signings come from first division ranks. The first, forward Jahir Barraza, was brought in on loan from LigaMX’s FC Atlas to provide competition up front for returnee Ever Guzman.
Defender Joshua Yaro also joins from MLS side Philadelphia Union. Yaro was the second overall selection in the 2016 MLS Super Draft out of Georgetown University. A series of injuries over the last few years derailed a promising start to his career, but he is excited for a fresh start in San Antonio and believes that not only he, but all of the new players, will be good additions to the club. “I think the coaches did their job really well in scouting me and making sure that every player on this team is going to contribute in a big way.” Yaro continued, “Management and the coaches took the time to look at each individual that they brought in this year, not just good players, but also good people who will be team players.”
Yaro also shared how pleased he has been with what he has seen at San Antonio FC, especially compared to some of the USL facilities he saw while playing on loan with the Union’s USL affiliate. “San Antonio has one of the best facilities in the USL. You see the stadium, you see the training field, the coaching staff, its amazing…and that’s what you need as a player to develop. It’s MLS standard.”
Darren Powell returns to SAFC for his fourth season and is now one of the USL’s longest serving coaches at the same club. Powell talked about how excited he was to get back to work and continue to build on long term club plans. “Last year we didn’t progress the way we wanted to in the end, but there were lots of things we put in place that I think will help this year.” The new player additions to the club are designed to fit the game model and system the team wants to implement on the field, which he described as an aggressive and demanding style of “progressive possession.” “We have the pieces in place we feel can capitalize on those opportunities and hopefully that will reflect in the game performances.”
Powell, when queried about the new local rivalry with Austin Bold FC, jokingly challenged SAFC supporters to “fill Austin’s stadium” on March 30 when SAFC travels to Circuit of the Americas for Austin’s inaugural home match.
He then went on to say that he would love to ramp up the Texas rivalries and provide extra meaning to the derby games through a Cup competition among the four Texas USL teams for annual Texas bragging rights. This is a great idea and a concept the clubs, or better yet, the collective supporters groups, like has happened with the MLS Cascadia Cup in the Pacific Northwest, should seriously consider pursuing.
SAFC will continue training sessions until February 2nd when they are scheduled to play their first preseason match against San Antonio’s Incarnate Word University.
A gallery of photos from this morning can be found in this link from San Antonio FC Communications.