Match Day 24 will see San Antonio FC wrap up their three-match road trip on the West Coast with the first of two meetings this year with Phoenix Rising. We caught up with Aaron Blau (@fitbawfoto) from Firebird Soccer (@Firebirdsite) to see what’s new in Arizona. Here we go into another Six Pointer Preview.
- 1 – (RB90) Here we are in late August and this is the first meeting of the season between these two teams. Catch us up on Phoenix’s season and what has stood out for team “San Antonio West”?
(AB) I’m not quite so sure that we’re San Antonio West. I think I’d rather look at it is that San Antonio is our AA affiliate. Good natured banter aside, Phoenix resides at the top of nearly all Western Conference statistical categories. Our high-powered offense generally plays a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-3-3 formation which focuses on wing possession and centering to the tall Golden Boot nominee Chris Cortez. What stands out the most, however, is the amount of success we have been able to generate without Chelsea legend Didier Drogba, who has missed a large chunk of the season in service of the BBC coverage of the World Cup. Drogba returned to the team last week and should be eligible for selection when we host San Antonio.
- 2 – Let’s get this out of the way. Billy Forbes is a big-time San Antonio soccer name in recent history. He led SAFC in goals and assists last year and moved on to Phoenix this past offseason. But it has been a different story for him in Phoenix. 13 appearances. One goal, two assists. What’s going on with Billy Forbes?
Billy quickly was introduced to the community and has done a lot of work with the Phoenix Rising Youth and became an immediate fan favorite. However, on the field, Forbes has struggled to find a role in a crowded front line of talented players. A nagging injury put him out of the lineup for the first five games of the year, and by that time, the starting lineup was fairly set. Forbes is competing for playing time with Jason Johnson (last year’s team goal leader), Kevaughn Frater (2017 Colorado Springs goal leader), as well as second-year Ghanian Gladson Awako.
- 3 – Another big offseason story was local product Devin Vega leaving for Phoenix as well. Many in San Antonio thought he had a lot of potential, which he flashed last season. Only four appearances this season. He seems like a complete non-factor in Phoenix. Surprised?
Phoenix has a very crowded midfield. Vega played well in the Open Cup match but hasn’t been able to move into a consistent starting role. Vega was very impressive in the most recent game Orange County Soccer Club, his second start in a row, and may have finally broken through to more predictable playing time. I see big things from him for the rest of the season.
- 4 – Let’s make it three straight about former San Antonio players. Jason Johnson scored the first-ever goal for SAFC but he moved on after one mostly unsuccessful season. In his second year with Phoenix, he really seems to have found his groove. He’s third on the team with seven goals. Tell us about his season and what has made him so successful?
Honestly, it is Johnson’s defense that has impressed me the most. Jason has an eye for defense like no forward I have ever seen. He has an incredible partner in Amadou Dia, and the two work their sideline with great precision. They communicate very well and predict each other’s movement. If Dia is caught on an overlap, Jason’s has incredible speed moving back and is not afraid to attack the ball. When in offensive possession, the Jamaican always believes he can score. He is quite the pleasure to watch, and his positive attitude is infectious.
- 5 – This definitely feels like a rivalry game from the San Antonio perspective. This was probably the first or second game most SAFC fans circled on their calendar when the schedule was released this season. Does it feel the same way out in Phoenix?
Phoenix fans are still trying to figure out who our rivals are. Since the 2017 rebranding, we have birthed so many new fans that they are not aware where our roster came from, and don’t see players like Johnson as ‘formerly from …’ Phoenix area fans are more likely to feel that OCSC or Las Vegas are rivalry matches due to proximity. I have a tough time seeing a major rivalry match if you can’t get to and from the other team in a day, but that’s just me.
- 6 – Tell us something we should know about Phoenix Rising.
Phoenix Rising is focusing a lot of effort showing Don Garber and MLS that #RisingIsReady to move to Division I soccer. If (or when) we are awarded a franchise, it will likely be due to a strong front office effort, and Phoenix Rising FC Vice President Sam Doerr. While San Antonio alumni like JJ, Vega, and Forbes work on the field, the former San Antonio Business & Soccer Operations Manager’s efforts off the field have elevated Rising FC to a new level. Local partnerships with Danzeisen Dairy, Hickman Farms, Four Peaks Brewery (Phoenix Rising Lager) and Venezia’s Pizzeria have placed the Rising FC brand in spots one would never expect and truly enhanced the hype around the team. More recently, Doerr has partnered with Jameson Irish Whiskey and Chivas. The San Antonio match will also feature Coca-Cola cans reminding fans to share a coke with (Rising FC Goalkeeper) Woz, (Midfielder Solomon) Asante, and JJ. The team even has a doughnut name for backup goalkeeper Zach Lubin! These partnerships are paying off in big ways, with sold-out games throughout the summer and the conversion of fans to fanatics.
Current Form (W-D-L)
San Antonio FC – W W W L L, 2018 Road Record 2-4-5
Phoenix Rising – W L W L W, 2018 Home Record 6-2-3
San Antonio FC: 34 points, 28 GF, 29 GA, -1 GD, 8th in USL West
Phoenix Rising: 44 points, 45 GF, 28 GA, +17 GD, 3rd in USL West
All-Time History (W-D-L)
As Phoenix Rising, San Antonio is 2-0-0 winning both matches last season. They split three games as Arizona United in 2016, going 1-1-1. All time vs the franchise, San Antonio is 3-1-1.
8/22/18 @ PHX
9/8/2018 @ SA
Drogba played 90 minutes but wasn’t a match for Restrepo and the San Antonio defense and a late penalty scored by Rafa Castillo in the 85th minute was the difference in a 1-0 San Antonio victory. With the win, San Antonio completed the season sweep in 2017 winning both matches. Despite holding 58% possession, San Antonio was out-shot 14-9, but Phoenix couldn’t crack the strong SAFC defense. There were eight yellow cards combined in the testy match – four for each team. Here are all the highlights:
The Matchup (W-D-L)
San Antonio FC (9-7-7) at Phoenix Rising (13-5-6) #PHXvSA
Phoenix Rising Soccer Complex, Wednesday, August 22nd
Kickoff 9:00 pm Central Time
Where to Watch: ESPN 3 (www.espn3.com)
Key to victory
It’s not often that an organization takes two bad losses on the same day, but that’s exactly what happened to SAFC last Wednesday night. First, they lost in the chambers of the Austin City Council when their 7-4 vote cleared the path for MLS to take root 80 miles to the North. Of course, that effectively ends San Antonio’s hopes of ever having an MLS team to call our own. Permanently. What that means for the future of SAFC and their fans is anyone’s guess. But it won’t be long before we find out what the ripple effects are. Austin starts MLS play next year (so much for the Austin Bold as a long-term rival. You can bet it wasn’t a happy day in that camp, either). No matter how you slice it, this was a very bad outcome for SSE, SAFC, San Antonio, and Alamo City soccer fans. We’ll find out the rest soon enough.
As if that wasn’t enough, then SAFC went out and played like their fans felt, and the results weren’t so good. In the end, it was a 2-1 Portland win, and in four short days, San Antonio went from their longest win streak of the season to their longest losing streak of the season. San Antonio also managed to lose two straight matches to teams who had previously not beaten them. Talk about a tough week.
The lone highlight for SAFC on the night was definitely Gordon, who scored a lovely free kick goal in the 28th minute, reclaiming the top spot in goals for the team (he’s now tied with Guzman at 5). Unfortunately, Portland would score twice after that, including an unreal strike from Zambrano that clinched the win for the Timbers “two” squad.
Now San Antonio turns their attention to Phoenix in what should be an emotional night on both sides of the ball. For San Antonio, it’ll feel like Scrooge’s dance with the ghost of Christmas Past – call it the ghosts of San Antonio’s soccer past. Johnson, Vega, and some guy named Billy Forbes…..maybe you heard of him…..they’ll all be there waiting in the Arizona desert. Not to mention Drogba and the rest of a tough Rising squad that has been in the upper half of the USL West for most of the season.
Phoenix comes into the match off a 2-0 win over Las Vegas, which bumped them up to third in the USL West. With ten matches to go, they remain in striking distance of Real Monarchs and the number one seed in the West, so they have plenty to play for.
For San Antonio, they really don’t have time to get caught up in whatever off-field emotions that might still linger about their former players, MLS missteps, or anything else. They need to do everything they can to salvage three points on a road trip that has not gone according to plan. And it won’t be easy against a loaded Phoenix squad. For a team scrambling for a playoff spot, a three-match losing streak for SAFC would be akin to a second-half train wreck, and in a lot of ways would undo many of the positives from the four-match win streak. How quickly fortunes can swing in this league.
It has been a lot of bad news on this road trip, just when things were starting to feel strangely positive for SAFC in a season that has featured few high moments. For the fans, there would be no better game for them to put up a strong performance than this one. Unfortunately, we think it’s more likely that San Antonio ends this road trip 0 for 3. We’re calling this one for Phoenix.
San Antonio FC – 1
Phoenix Rising – 2
SAFC “Did You Know?”
Former SAFC player Carlos Alvarez scored two goals against then-Arizona United in a match on September 4th, 2016 – the most goals for a San Antonio player in a single match in this series.