February means Rodeo time in San Antonio and while there may not be any Cowboy boots anywhere in sight on the Star Soccer Complex training grounds, the San Antonio FC football boots have been hard at work getting ready for the 2018 USL season. It’s been a busy couple of weeks, so let’s get right into all the latest team news & happenings.
- New Faces
As anticipated, the 2018 roster continues to evolve as we progress closer to the opening kick, and as such, February has been highlighted by three noteworthy additions and one very unexpected subtraction. SAFC added two supremely talented Defenders this month – without question the biggest area of need coming out of January. First, they named Darnell King to the team on February 6th. King most recently hails from the Tampa Bay Rowdies, and he is no stranger to Toyota Field. He started for the Rowdies in the match last October versus SAFC that ended in a 1-1 draw, and he was also on the Fort Lauderdale Strikers team in 2014 who lost a memorable NASL Championship Match to the San Antonio Scorpions. King even made mention of the fact at his signing saying: “I have always loved playing here at Toyota Field, so I am excited to play every home game here.”
Those are words that will no doubt excite all SAFC fans.
On the field King has been quite productive, starting 80 games over the last three seasons with the Rowdies. With no indications of a return for Ben Newnam, it seems likely that King has been brought in to sure up the Right Back position. Red Black 90 caught up with Fifty Five One contributor Mike Pendleton (@phat7deuce) to ask him his thoughts on King and he had this to say. “He’s a solid RB, a key contributor, and a reliable starter. He’s a tough, hard-nosed defender. The Rowdies system has led him to stay at home a bit more, but he used to bomb down the sidelines and create chaos.”
That’s the kind of quote that should fire up the SAFC fan base. A reliable fullback who can get forward and create chaos? Where have we heard that before? If you said, ‘he sure sounds like another Greg Cochrane’, you win the big prize. And it’s probably a good bet that if there are opportunities for King to jump on the attack down the right flank that Darren Powell will have little problem turning him loose.
On the same day, in a surprising move, SAFC announced that Mark O’ O Jong mutually agreed to part ways with the team. Citing “personal matters in Cameroon” on the official press release, and being short of any further details, we’ll leave it at that. Except to add that it’s a disappointing San Antonio end for the Defensive-Mid, who was just re-announced for the season days before. Certainly, all of us at Red Black 90 wish him the best as he departs under unusual circumstances.
The next announced signing had to be one of the sweetest moments for the San Antonio FC organization to date, and not just b/c it was Valentine’s Day. SAFC announced the signing of 16-year-old Midfielder Ethan Bryant – the first ever SAFC Elite Training Program Participant to be named to the club. A truly momentous occurrence for a club entering just their third year, and from an Academy Program even younger than that. And what is truly special about this deal, is that Bryant won’t jeopardize any college eligibility. Just how much game action the young prospect might see this season remains to be seen; Manager Darren Powell even noting at his signing that “There are many more steps he needs to take.” Regardless, it was a proud moment for the organization and Bryant will serve as an example to all of the Academy players to what is possible. Echoing that sentiment, San Antonio FC Pro Academy Director Nick Evans was rightfully beaming with pride over the signing.
— Nick Evans (@evsie1984) February 14, 2018
As if playing out an encore to an adoring audience salivating for more, San Antonio FC followed that major news with another big defensive signing one day later, adding Defender Chris Christian, formerly of Sacramento Republic FC. Another reliable defensive player, Christian started 27 matches last season piling up over 2400 minutes of action. In two seasons at Sacramento, he appeared in 64 total matches. Joshua Beeman of Indomitable City Soccer (@josh_beeman) was clearly impressed with Christian, telling Red Black 90: “For most of his time with Republic, Christian was the club’s most reliable central defender. He’s a solid starter at the USL level and I think he’ll be able to do a lot for SAFC.”
It’s really incredible how Powell and his staff have been able to keep turning up key Veteran defenders over the last two off-seasons, and suddenly a position of need has turned into a borderline embarrassment of riches in a mere couple of weeks. It will be very exciting to see who wins out over the next month in what now has to be called a position battle in the back four. Which begs the question – what’s going on with McCarthy? Might he be nursing an injury? With Pre Season halfway gone, we have yet to see the SAFC defensive star take the field. Which brings us to the games.
The Pre Season is now in full swing and three games are in the books. While it’s always best to take what you see in Pre-Season with a major grain of salt (like Mike Seth featuring as a defender – maybe he will come March, maybe he won’t) here are a few observations from what we’ve seen so far.
- 2/3/18 – SAFC 3, University Of Incarnate Word 2
The bad news – the “A” team was outscored in their half 2-0. The good news – the “B” team roared back for three straight goals to take a 3-2 victory in the 2018 pre-season opener. The clear star of this match was Forward Alex Bruce who scored a second-half brace to lead the way for the Silver and Black. That’s a pretty huge opening statement for a new player looking to carve out a role for the season. The first came off an assist from Mike Seth – also a great sign, as the very capable Seth had limited involvement in 2017. The second was a header off a cross from Connor Presley. As previously mentioned this offseason, Bruce’s size makes him an inviting target, so it was encouraging to see him putting it to use first game out. Speaking of Presley, the second year man still has a lot to prove for himself in his own right, and he also found the back of the net capitalizing off of a Maxi Rodriguez rebound. Finally, a round of applause for Matt Cardone who pitched a second-half shutout. It was resplendent to see a healthy “Fear The Beard” back in action and stonewalling opponents.
- 2/11/18 – SAFC 2, FC Dallas 0
San Antonio FC took to the road for their second Pre Season match, taking on MLS’ FC Dallas on a very cold and blustery Frisco, Texas morning. It was the Jose Escalante show on this day, as the exciting SAFC newcomer showed a glimpse of what he can provide to the offensive side of the ball, dishing out assists to Ever Guzman and Kris Tyrpak. And picking right up where 2017 ended, it’s a positive sign to see Guzman and Tyrpak still finding the net. On the defensive side, it was a combo shutout for Restrepo and Cardone – Restrepo taking the first hour, and Cardone closing with the final 30 minutes. Cardone also had this SWEET save on a free kick opportunity for FC Dallas.
— Dallas Burn (@FCDallas) February 11, 2018
As part of that shutout, we also saw King make his SAFC debut, going 60 minutes to help pave the way for the goose-egg from our North Texas rivals.
2/17/18 – SAFC 3, New England Revolution 3
Sometimes the informational stars align for the fans and that is exactly what happened this past weekend in Arizona. If this had been any other normal SAFC pre-season match (aka, a closed one) we would have heard about a big day from an unnamed Trialist and we’d all be digging for information on the player. As luck would have it, thanks to the New England Revolution, the match was streamed and the guesswork was eliminated. And it was definitely the Sonny Guadarrama show on Saturday. So much so, that we wouldn’t be surprised if he’s formally signed and announced by the time this article comes out.
The match started with Escalante earning a PK in the opening 15 minutes, and that is when Guadarrama got his day going, surprisingly being the one tabbed with taking the PK. It had to be a welcome sight for SAFC fans to see him take such a clinical PK for the opening goal after all the PK struggles when they mattered most in 2017. Here’s a look at the goal.
— San Antonio FC (@SanAntonioFC) February 17, 2018
The Revs came out with an aggressive, high press right from the opening kick and it paid off about 10 minutes after the PK when that press leads to a turnover deep in SAFC territory and an easy put in for New England. The Revs closed a very dominant first half with 2 goals in quick succession, showing off their team speed by blazing past the SAFC defense for a 3-1 lead at the break.
After several changes for NE and a couple for SAFC, it was time for the aforementioned Guadarrama coming out party. Hitting the Revs on the counter twice, the Austin Texas native and former Liga MX man found Ever Guzman with two superb through-balls in traffic that looked nearly identical. Guzman for his part had two gorgeous one on one finishes and just like that the match was all tied up, and that’s how it would remain. Here’s a look at the goals.
— San Antonio FC (@SanAntonioFC) February 18, 2018
— San Antonio FC (@SanAntonioFC) February 18, 2018
All in all, this was a good challenge for SAFC in February. The team no doubt learned a lot of lessons from the first half when they were outclassed by a more talented roster, but at the same time showed off their team resiliency once again by battling back in the second half to earn the draw. And scoring 8 goals in the first three pre-season matches is nothing to sneeze at for a team known more for their defense than their offense two seasons in. If that’s a sign of what’s to come, this could really be a special season.
Next up for SAFC is a doubleheader of games on Saturday back home at Toyota Field. Once again, those matches will be closed to the public. The USL season kickoff is now less than a month away.
Remaining Pre Season Schedule (all games at Toyota Field):
Feb 24 vs St Edwards & vs UTRGV
March 2 vs RGV FC Toros (match is open to the public)
March 10 vs Tulsa Roughnecks
- New Home Kit Unveiled
On Tuesday night San Antonio FC hosted fans at Cowboys Dancehall for the official debut of their new Primary kit. After two years in the original home kit, fans were particularly excited to get a look at the new threads that will be frequently worn at Toyota Field. And SAFC did not disappoint. Here’s a look at the new design.
— San Antonio FC (@SanAntonioFC) February 21, 2018
Fans were quick to react on social media, and it’s safe to say the new look was a big hit.
— SOY SAN ANTONIO FÚTB⚽️L (@Soy_SAF) February 21, 2018
It may be the shortest month on the calendar, but it has been a busy one for SAFC. With so much that has happened already just in the first couple weeks of February alone, and with so much more yet to come, let’s all be glad this isn’t just an 8-second rodeo ride in February. But rather the start of what is an 8 Month journey that we can all savor– one that hopefully ends with a very deep Playoff run, all the way to USL Cup in November.
We’d love to hear your thoughts on the new kit – did you love it or were you disappointed? Share your thoughts in the comments below or on the Red Black 90 Social Media pages.