SAN ANTONIO – After a few weeks of inconsistent play and offensive struggles, San Antonio FC is starting to look like the club that everyone thought would be a contender to win the USL Cup.
SAFC played their most impressive match of the season thus far as they earned a 2-1 victory over Fresno FC (2-2-5) in front of 7,342 fans at Toyota Field on Saturday night.
The victory was the second straight for San Antonio and pushed their unbeaten streak to three games, going 2-0-1 over that span.
“The more you play with each other, the more familiar you are with one another, and that makes things more fluid and I think we saw that tonight– the growth in the way the players have played in the last two weeks,” SAFC Head Coach Darren Powell said.
Fresno came out strong looking for a goal but San Antonio goalkeeper Diego Restrepo made two huge saves in the first four minutes of the match, keeping it scoreless.
After some chances both ways, it was San Antonio who got on the scoreboard first for the second straight week. Darnell King fed the ball to forward Alex Bruce, who tapped into the net in the 20th minute to put SAFC up 1-0.
“I’ve been waiting for this moment since I was a little kid,” Bruce said of his first pro goal. “I know I saw my dad and he was in tears the whole time, so it’s a pretty good feeling.”
Bruce’s goal would stand as the lone of the first 45 minutes as SAFC carried a one-goal lead into the second half. Fresno FC would finally beat Restrepo in the 63rd minute when Jemal Johnson scored with a backheel goal, bringing the score level 1-1.
San Antonio would not be denied three points on this night and midfielder Sonny Guadarrama made sure of that. He gave SAFC the lead for good in the 67th minute when he fired a laser that went off the post and Fresno goalkeeper Kyle Reynish. The goal would officially go into the record books as an own goal for the visiting side.
Here is what went good and bad for SAFC on Saturday, as well as three standout players: Alex Bruce, Diego Restrepo, and Omar Gordon.
- San Antonio FC seems to finally put things together after a 1-2-3 start through six matches. The past two matches have seen the offense click and defense step up in big moments. Both positive signs moving forward.
- SAFC has scored five goals in their past two matches after scoring just six goals in their past six matches. The offense looks like it is finding its footing, which is welcome news for Coach Powell.
- The red and black pushed their unbeaten streak to three matches, gaining seven of a possible nine points in their last three matches.
- San Antonio allowed another soft goal in the match, it was their second in two weeks. If SAFC is going to be successful going forward, this will need to be addressed sooner rather than later.
Three Standout Players:
After seeing the potential the English forward had in the past few matches, he finally showed everyone why the SAFC coaches were so high on him during the preseason. Bruce made his first professional start and netted his first pro goal in the 20th minute off a pass from Darnell King, giving San Antonio the early lead.
With the status of Ever Guzman unknown, Bruce’s play is encouraging for SAFC’s offense moving forward. He is quick to the ball and makes the most out of his chances. Rafa Castillo looked for Bruce on a header attempt that just was too high for him.
Bruce’s play has been encouraging for the past few weeks and given his performance on Saturday, it seems likely Powell will continue to start the youngster in future matches.
“Being the new kid it was a bit shaky,” Bruce said. (There’s always the question of) ‘should we go with him, should we not,’ but they have trust in me and I thank the coaches for that, for putting their trust in me.”
Once again, the reigning Goalkeeper of the Year came up big for San Antonio on Saturday night. He made a huge save in the opening minutes off a chance from Fresno’s Pedro Ribeiro to keep the match scoreless. Later he made a stop on a one-on-one chance and kept the visiting side off the scoreboard in the opening 45 minutes.
His biggest and most impressive save came in the 81st minute when Fresno fired a laser towards the net but a diving Restrepo punched it away to keep SAFC in front 2-1.
The goalkeeper finished the match with four saves, two clearances, two punches and one interception.
“The job is to not let the ball in, to go out and execute and try to get my form back from last year,” Restrepo said. “It took a little bit but I think it’s finally coming along. I’m excited to keep going and keep helping the team, and that we won, which is the most important thing.”
Restrepo’s play over the past few weeks has reminded everyone why he won Goalkeeper of the Year in 2017 and he seems to have locked in after what many deemed a ‘poor start’ for the veteran keeper. The chemistry issues with the defense, particularly the backline, looks like it has gotten better and tighter over the last few matches. This will be a welcome sight for Coach Powell and not so good news for SAFC’s future opponents.
After being inserted back into the Starting XI by Powell for the first time since opening night and he was impressive in his time on the pitch. Gordon just missed out on a chance for a goal but was aggressive all night.
His speed was a huge factor SAFC as he pushed the pace on the attack and overall helped the offense keep the foot on the gas. This was most obvious in the second half with San Antonio holding a one-goal lead. Instead of sitting on it, they pushed to get the second goal. Much of that aggression is due to Bruce and Gordon.
It will be interesting to see if Powell continues to use Gordon in the Starting XI or as a sub as the season goes on.
San Antonio FC is now 3-2-3 (12 points) on the season and will return to the pitch next Saturday when they travel to take on the Rio Grande Valley FC Toros (1-3-3, 6 points) at H-E-B Park at 7:30 p.m. CT.