SAN ANTONIO — When a team is depleted with injuries, they must learn to adapt. That’s what San Antonio FC has had to do through the first five matches of the season and they did that once again on Saturday night at Toyota Field.
Behind a new 3-2-3 formation, SAFC earned a 2-1 victory over Birmingham Legion FC in the first ever meeting between the two clubs. The win saw San Antonio rebound from their first loss of the season a week ago in Rio Grande Valley.
“Tonight was all around a special night,” said SAFC Head Coach Alen Marcina. “I’m so proud of everyone. We played in front of a sold out crowd. Our fans were amazing and brought so much energy. We got to celebrate a city tradition with ‘Viva Night’ and that was amazing as well. The front office did a great job and the players were committed. They earned the result.”
Fans didn’t have much time to settle in their seats before the first goal of the game was scored. Jose Gallegos took a shot that was deflected and it fell to the boot of Santiago Patino, who banged it home past Birmingham goalkeeper Matt VanOekel just 43 seconds into the match to put San Antonio up 1-0.
For the rest of the first half, the match would feature long balls and aggressive attacks from both sides but it would remain a one-goal game going into the second half.
Marcus Epps came on in the second half and nearly doubled the lead for SAFC but VanOekel denied him, while Emil Cuello’s shot deflected off a Birmingham defender and out of play.
Jordan Perruzza made his return to San Antonio felt in the 81st minute when a corner kick was headed across goal by Mathieu Deplagne to Perruzza, who fired a shot to the nto the left corner of the net, putting SAFC up 2-0.
Matt Cardone came up big for San Antonio in the final moments of the match when Birmingham was on the attack. Daigo Kobayashi’s shot from long range was parried away by Cardone, who hustled back to the left corner to stop a shot attempt from Ryan James.
Neco Brett finally got Legion FC on the board in the closing moments when he headed a shot past Cardone, finalizing the 2-1 score as SAFC bagged all three points.
The victory also extends San Antonio’s home winning streak to
Here are three key moments from Saturday’s win over Birmingham:
Fast starts aren’t so bad
Santigo’s goal just 43 seconds into the match was the third fastest goal in club history behind an own goal and Luis Solignac’s goal nine seconds in last season. The tally gives Santiago four goals in five matches, leading SAFC in that category.
The quick goal set the tone for San Antonio, who defended well despite holes in the defense due to injury. Even though they led by a goal, SAFC remained aggressive on the attack in the first half and into the second half.
“Goals change games. It fueled our fire,” Marcina said. “In the first half we were excellent in our pressing actions and won the ball in a lot of good spots. We were unfortunate to not get a few more goals.”
Deplagne assists on both ends
Defender Mathieu Deplagne not only assisted on Perruzza’s goal but he also played a key role on the defensive side to help San Antonio get three points. Deplagne recorded a team-leading four interceptions to go along with four clearances and eight possessions gained.
This provided an extra boost for Cardone, who finished the match with five saves.
“It’s a bonus to our confidence when we see Matt [Cardone] make these two saves and his reaction,” Deplagne said. “It’s a bonus for extra motivation in the legs and an extra freshness. I’m happy for him, because as a keeper you have to make one or two important saves in the game. It was a special moment for him and I’m happy for him.”
Not falling back into old habits
With Birmingham attacking and holding a one goal lead, SAFC held strong and did not give up the late goal to concede a draw. Instead, they got stuck in defensively and held on to secure all three points in the match.
That is a far cry from team’s of the past that lose focus or make too many mental errors, resulting in losing points and eventually missing out on a playoff spot. However, Marcina has told his team they must have a discipline on both sides of the ball and it’s something the club has taken on board.
“We showed a lot of resilience,” Deplagne said. “It’s not easy when you consider the team is pushing in the last minutes. We showed a strong mentality tonight to win and preserve the lead. I am a bit upset; we should have won 2-0, but it’s good to show the resilience.”
San Antonio FC is now 2-1-1 (7 points) on the season and will return to the pitch next Saturday when they welcome RGV FC Toros (3-1-0) to Toyota Field at 7:30 PM.