SAN ANTONIO — Late game miscues and mental mistakes are enriched in San Antonio FC’s history and Saturday night saw the problem arise again as a red card late in the match changed the trajectory of the final 10 minutes and cost SAFC three points.
San Antonio FC and Rio Grande Valley FC Toros fought to a 1-1 draw at Toyota Field after a late goal from RGV’s Juan Azocar in the 89th minute.
The result sees SAFC extend their home winning streak to 17 matches and earn a point but the feeling after the match was the club let one get away.
“We created more than enough opportunities to win that game,” said SAFC Head Coach Alen Marcina. “I don’t know what the count was, but I know it was high. The type of opportunities that we created were high percentage opportunities. We have to be more clinical and put teams away. As a collective, we defended really well. That’s soccer. We remain undefeated at home for the last 17 games.”
RGV came out strong on the attack early, sending two shots towards the San Antonio net but goalkeeper Matt Cardone stood tall and parried both shots away, keeping the match scoreless.
In the 10th minute, San Antonio midfielder PC went down with a no-contact injury and was taken off the pitch on a stretcher in obvious pain. The new injury is not a welcome sight for SAFC, who are already thin on defense, and had no new injuries to report before the start of the match.
Just before the end of the half, San Antonio broke the scoreless stalemate when Emil Cuello sent Marcus Epps on a free run toward the goal and he finished it with a goal inside the far post in the 40th minute, putting SAFC up 1-0 going into the second half.
The second half saw San Antonio create the better chances with midfielder Nathan forcing RGV goalkeeper Tyler Deric to make two big saves in the 63rd and 70th minute respectively. Things were looking good for San Antonio until Cuello was shown a red card in the 80th minute for aggressive behavior, leaving SAFC down a man for the final 10-plus minutes.
RGV took advantage of San Antonio’s error late when Azocar finished off the end of a cross with a bicycle kick to level the score and secure a point on the road for the Toros.
Here are three takeaways from Saturday’s draw against RGV:
Little mistakes can cost you
San Antonio has struggled this season when it comes to finishing the last moments of the game strong. Their lone clean sheet of the season was their season-opening 3-0 win over Colorado Springs on May 1. Since then, they have given up a late goal in three of their four matches.
SAFC’s defense has been depleted by injuries with Axel Sjoberg, Connor Maloney, and Justin Dhillon all being sidelined with lower-body injuries. That has left some scrambling to get set or in their spots.
“Maybe we were scrambling a little bit to get set,” Cardone said. “We had some guys down with cramps or whatever it was, and the ball came in. We didn’t get to the second ball first, and he was able to finish it. But it’s a game of inches sometimes, and that’s how it went.”
Getting in your own way
San Antonio has gotten in their own way despite owning a winning record this season. The latest being Cuello’s red card late in Saturday’s match.
With SAFC already having a shortened roster due to injury, Cuello will now be suspended for next Saturday’s match, forcing Marcina to tinker with the lineups once again and find a rotation and formation that can work well on the pitch for 90-plus minutes.
“In any game, playing a man down presents a different challenge,” he said. “I thought our guys were doing well to limit opportunities. One action at the end – hats off to a bicycle kick – you don’t see that very often. But again, that’s soccer.”
Adding fuel to the fire
If anything, Saturday’s result will add some fuel to the fire for San Antonio. They knew they should have come away with three points and it will be on their mind as they head into training this week and on their first big road trip of the season.
They currently sit just two points behind first-place RGV in the Mountain Division standings and this road trip will see where they stand once they return home.
“On the road, you can’t control everything, and we talk as a team about controlling what we can control,” Epps said. “Like tonight, going a man down. We can’t control the referee’s decision, but we can control the work we put in and how we approach each minute and each play. You take those lessons into the next game and we build that into our resilience to control the controllable when we play these next away games.”
San Antonio FC is now 2-1-2 (8 points) on the season and will return to the pitch next Saturday when they face Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC (1-2-0) at 7 PM from Weidner Field.