The long offseason wait is finally over. San Antonio FC returns to Toyota Field this weekend to face Real Monarchs as both teams open their 2020 USL Championship season on Saturday night. The offseason was filled with changes for SAFC and none was bigger than the decision made at the top.
For the first time in their five-year history, SAFC will have a manger on the sidelines not named Darren Powell. SAFC and Powell parted ways in October after the team narrowly missed out on the playoffs for the third time in four seasons. In 2019 it was particularly galling as on the final day of the season SAFC let a two-goal lead with a man advantage against one of the worst teams in the league in Colorado slip through their fingers. And with it, so went their playoff hopes.
Enter new manager Alen Marcina. San Antonio soccer fans will no doubt remember Marcina from his days leading the San Antonio Scorpions of NASL to a Championship in this very stadium. More recently, he was on Powell’s coaching staff last season, so SAFC did not have to look far for their replacement. For some critics it was seen as a change that didn’t go far enough and was played too safely. For others, it was a fun callback to better days on the field. Now we’ll get to the business of seeing what Marcina’s tenure can bring for SAFC.
It will be a daunting challenge. The changes on the offensive side of the ball were massive. Four of San Antonio’s top five goal scorers from 2019 are gone. And the 5th, Cristian Parano, is sidelined with injury after undergoing surgery last month on his left meniscus. Essentially, SAFC is starting the season down their five best goal scorers from last season. Those players accounted for 38 goals (if you include Parano’s seven) – more than half of San Antonio’s 62 total goals scored in 2019. That would be a big challenge for any team to overcome, but particularly one for an organization that hasn’t been consistently known for their goal scoring prowess.
SAFC is counting on four new Forwards to lead the way. Gonzalo Di Renzo from Argentina, Luis Solignac from Chicago Fire, Ignacio Bailone also from Argentina, and Tabort Etaka Preston, most recently of Las Vegas Lights. Former SAFC loanee and Midfielder Zachary Herivaux of the New England Revolution returns to San Antonio, this time as a signed player. He spent time with the team in 2017 on loan. PC Giro from Vancouver Whitecaps is another top Offensive addition in the Midfield. And if pre-season is any indication, keep an eye on SAFC Academy standout Jose Gallegos who is back for his second season with the senior team. He looks like a player poised to make a big leap on the field in 2020.
Last season was the best goal scoring season in SAFC’s history and by a wide margin. The 62 goals scored eclipsed the previous three year high of 45 by seventeen goals. A big improvement. Unfortunately, the defense was the worst in SAFC history in 2019, surrendering 57 goals. Only one team in the Western Playoffs last season gave up more goals (Galaxy II - 62). So, the defense too, needs improvement.
There are more familiar faces for fans on this side of the ball. Joshua Yaro, Eby Ackon, and Kai Greene are all returning Defenders. How much they’re involved remains to be seen. Only Yaro was a starter in the only pre-season match that was open to the public. The longest tenured player in SAFC history is also back as Matt Cardone returns in Goal.
New signings will look to bolster the back line unit as well such as Blake Smith from FC Cincinnati and Hunter Gorskie previously of the Tampa Bay Rowdies and Loudoun United. Additionally, SAFC added Keeper Dayne St. Clair on loan from Minnesota United who could push Cardone for playing time.
When we last saw Real Monarchs they were busy lifting the USL Championship trophy. Their timely playoff run as the number four seed in the West saw them complete three upset victories including knocking out number one seed in the West Phoenix Rising 2-1. They also stunned the two-time defending Champions Louisville City (who were strangely enough, also a four seed last season) on their own ground by a score of 3-1 to claim the title.
As with all MLS-aligned teams, there is always a lot of roster fluctuation. But one name that SAFC fans might remember is Midfielder Devin Vega. After spending two seasons in Phoenix with a minimal impact, he has moved on to get a fresh start with the Monarchs for 2020.
Monarchs have never won at Toyota Field. San Antonio would love to keep that streak going as they kick off 2020. And they won’t get another crack at this matchup for over seven months as the two teams do not face off again until Mid-October. No time like the present. No time like Opening Day.
Happy 2020 season, SAFC fans. Bring on the League Champs.
The Matchup (W-D-L)
Real Monarchs (0-0-0, 0 points) at San Antonio FC (0-0-0, 0 points)
Toyota Field, Saturday March 7th, 2020
Kickoff 7:30pm Central Time
Current Form (W-D-L)
San Antonio FC – 2020 Home Record 0-0-0
Real Monarchs SLC– 2020 Road Record 0-0-0
All Time History (W-D-L)
Saturday will mark the 8th meeting between these two teams. San Antonio has done very well in the series overall. San Antonio are 4-1-2 vs Monarchs all time, including 2-1-0 at Toyota Field.
3/7/2020 @ SA
10/10/2020 @ RM
San Antonio defeated the soon to be Champions 3-1 at Toyota Field last July. Brian Gomez, Frank Lopez, and Billy Forbes all scored for San Antonio in the decisive victory. The lone goal for Monarchs was scored due to a defensive mix-up deep in the SAFC end by backup Keeper Jonathan Viscosi who had come on for an injured Matt Cardone.
Here are the match Highlights:
SAFC Wins If :
…. If SAFC’s new look squad under current Manager Alen Marcina can rise to the challenge of opening the season against the defending league champions.
New 2020 Home Kit
SAFC unveiled their new 2020 home kit in front of fans at Cowboys Dance Hall last week. The new look marks the third home kit in SAFC history and was met with wide praise. The team will wear the new uniforms for the first time on Saturday night.
PHOTOS: DARREN ABATE/ INSTAGRAM: @PEAKACTION
IMAGES: SAN ANTONIO FC TWITTER