In a season mired by cancellations, postponements, and rearrangements, San Antonio FC is finding their rhythm; and in it, they’ve found success!
The team currently stands at 3-1-0, 10 points. Technically undefeated, they have the highest winning percentage in the conference through four games. Their 10 points have them 1st overall in Group D of the USL Western Conference Championship standings.
“Group play” is just another sign of modern times; as the USL implemented a completely new regionally based schedule upon the resumption of the 2020 season. The intent is to keep teams traveling within their immediate areas, given how COVID-19 concerns differ state to state. SAFC just so happened to land in the group with the lowest goal differential in the conference. The result is a firm grip on first place, as their 10 points are twice as many as any other club in their group. As they find themselves a quarter of the way through their shortened 16 game schedule, lets breakdown SAFCs’ 2020 season so far.
San Antonio FC opened their 2020 campaign with a home win over defending USL champions Real Monarchs Salt Lake City. The 1-0 victory was new Head Coach Alen Marcina’s first since his promotion from first-team Assistant Coach. Defender Callum Montgomery had the lone goal of the game, converting on a simply beautiful assist from captain Luis Solignac. The team hunted goals all first half with Gonzalo Di Renzo striking the goal-post early in just the 10th minute. However, they were unable to capitalize until the 66th minute. After an SAFC free-kick spilled out of the box, the second service from Di Renzo was perfectly placed for Montgomery to rip the ball into the top right corner. SAFC would finish the day with 16 shot attempts, while both teams finished with just two shots landing on goal. The loss left Salt Lake City winless in San Antonio since 2016.
Little did we know, that the home opener would be the last game played for nearly four months. Just five days later the USL would follow the NBAs’ lead as all major sports leagues postponed competition amid growing COVID-19 concerns. It wouldn’t be until June 4th when the USL Board of Governors convened via video-conference to vote in favor of resuming the season. The proposal emphasized that a return to play would only be in accordance with state & local health officials. It should be recognized that SAFC & the USL have stayed true to that promise.
The “group play” proposal was quickly ratified and SAFCs’ remaining scheduled was re-formatted. 15 remaining games against Group D opponents Austin Bold FC, Rio Grande Valley FC, OKC Energy FC & FC Tulsa. A road match against in-state rival El Paso Locomotive FC is the only opponent they will face outside of their group. However this match clearly still fits the regional schedule restraints the league agreed upon. The top two teams in each regional grouping will advance to the USL Championship playoffs.
The Alamo City clubs’ highly anticipated return to play was scheduled for Friday, July 17th. However, the game was postponed after a team member of Rio Grande Valley FC tested positive for COVID-19 just hours before the match. The match was re-scheduled for that following Sunday, just two days later.
The 1-1 draw resulted in one point for San Antonio FC. The frustration of a late RGV equalizer wiped away a lead SAFC held from the opening minutes. A very early goal from Cristian Parano in just the 3rd minute set the tone of the game. The reigning USL “Young Player of the Year” missed the season opener while recovering from surgery to repair his left meniscus. The four-month hiatus allowed him time to heal, and study with an English tutor. Ruen Nunes of RGV FC stole away the SAFC win in the 94th minute. His stoppage-time strike came from a few yards outside the box and howled past keeper Dayne St. Clair. A dominating road win which should’ve resulted in 3 points devolved into a frustrating 1 point tie.
San Antonio FC would return home to an empty Toyota Field for a rematch against RGV FC; their first home match in 140 days. With rising COVID-19 concerns in the area, the team and local officials announced that the game would be played without fans in attendance.
The 1-0 victory seemed almost like a continuation of the 1st bracket, as midfielder Cristian Parano set up forward Gonzalo Di Renzo in the 60th minute for the only goal of the game. Dayne St Clairs’ clean sheet was the 2nd for SAFC this season. Parano’s performance earned him a spot on the USL “Team of the Week” His two shots were both on target, and he passed at an 84 percent accuracy rate. His assist came just six days after his first goal of the season. The team completely dominated the ball, retaining possession for 60% of the game. Their attack was unrelenting as they attempted 19 shots, eight of which resulting in corner kicks.
Their high powered offense continued on full display in the I-35 Derby against Austin Bold FC. The Alamo City club netted four goals against their interstate rival. Forward Luis Solignac earned USL “Team of the Week” honors with two goals on two shots. His first goal came off a failed clearance in the 23rd minute, and his second shut the door on the possibility of any comeback late in the 2nd half. Blake Smiths’ left-footed finish solidified an early 2-0 lead just four minutes after Solignacs’ opener. A costly own goal from SAFC defender Josh Yaro leveled the match at 2-2. The game would stay tied for 20 minutes until forward Cristian Parano scored his second goal of the season.
The burgeoning star is responsible for a goal in every game he’s played in this season; either by scoring or assisting. The reigning USL “Young Player of the Year” has picked up right where he left off last season. He is absolutely flying downfield and he has clearly shown the ability to impact games. The continued success of SAFCs’ season will fully coincide with the play of Parano. As well as the teams’ ability to create shots, their +4 goal differential may be enough to maintain a firm grip on Group D. However it fails to measure up to the competition they will undoubtedly face in the playoffs.
Still, the team finds themselves with a commanding lead over their group just a quarter of the way into this rescheduled and rearranged season. The five-point disparity between SAFC and their closest opponent is tied for the highest of any group in the league. While the season itself has seemed almost star-crossed at times; the ascension of their young stars paired with their regional grouping seems as if SAFC has the luck of the draw!