Part two of our 2019 SAFC Position Preview takes us to the Midfielders. It’s a bit of a mixed bag for the San Antonio FC Midfielders heading into the 2019 season. Unlike the Defenders, there’s a decent amount of returning players in this group and some intriguing new additions to go with them. The Midfield was a bit of a disappointment in 2018 as an overall position group and much more will be expected of them if San Antonio is to return to the USL Playoffs this year.
Let’s begin with the departures. Four players have landed with other USL teams. Charlie Ward with Ottawa Fury FC, Mikey Lopez to Birmingham Legion and more notably from the SAFC perspective, Sonny Guadarrama with new Texas rivals Austin Bold FC and Omar Gordon to OKC Energy. It definitely stings to see half of those signings stay in the West, and regionally at that. Especially Gordon who was a very underrated performer during his time in San Antonio. Maybe somewhat surprising for local fans, three familiar faces will not return, although one isn't going anywhere. Local man Maxi Rodriguez and Connor Presley are currently without playing contracts. And former team Captain Ryan Roushandel was named to the SAFC Coaching Staff for 2019. Lastly Gianluca Cuomo landed in Europe with Mosta FC and Jose Escalante arrived to his home in Honduras.
Returning in 2019, arguably the biggest fan favorite in recent times in San Antonio (heck, he even has his own bobble head, after all), Rafa Castillo is back once again for another season. Father time might ultimately win the war, but the current battle goes to Rafa. That said, it’s hard to expect a huge role for the 38 year old. He finished with only two league goals last year and all three of his season goals were PK's. But he can still hit a ball will pure power and his success from the penalty spot is well understood. Rafa showed that his free kick skills can also still be very valuable in the Pre Season match against FC Dallas, delivering two balls that led directly to SAFC goals. Rafa, along with GK Matt Cardone, are the only two remaining players on the roster from the inaugural season in 2016.
Also returning and marking his third season in San Antonio is the rock in the middle, Pecka. Pecka is a bit of an unsung hero for SAFC. He doesn’t show up on the stat sheet a lot - only one goal last season - but he does his job in possession and he does it well. 2018 was a bit inconsistent for him as he dealt with an injury, so he’ll be looking to rebound in 2019. Pecka wore the armband in the FC Dallas match, so expect him to Captain the 2019 team. That should tell fans a lot about what he means to the club.
Another fan favorite back for another season is local Academy hero, 17 year-old Ethan Bryant. He had a decent debut season all considering. It was a big moment for him and the club when he scored his first professional goal in September in a win against Seattle at Toyota Field. Arguably it was an even bigger moment for him and the organization earlier this year when he was named to the U-18 National Team Training Camp. Bryant is a rising talent in the sport - expect a bigger role in 2019 for a player who has shown a lot of promise and excitement in such a short time.
Most surprising, and pleasantly so, was the news that San Antonio FC turned super star loanee Lance Laing into a full time SAFC player. Maybe it shouldn’t have been so surprising with FC Cincinnati on the way to MLS, but he was more than impressive in his short run in 2018. He nearly single handedly willed SAFC to a playoff birth, with the team just missing out on the last day of the 2018 season. It was an incredible stretch that saw Laing tally five goals and six assists over a nine game span that left him as the team leader in assists for the entire season. Go back and re-read that last line. It's pretty amazing what he did in such a short time period with the team, and it also speaks to the offensive struggles of SAFC in general throughout 2018. The thought of Laing projecting his 2018 numbers over the course of a full season has to tickle SAFC fans' cheeks with an unavoidable grin. He’ll be the number one player to watch from this group in 2019.
That brings us to the new faces for 2019 and it’s an exciting crop of Midfielders. And the first new face isn't a new face at all. Billy Forbes makes his third appearance in San Antonio in 2019 (once with the Scorpions, and now twice with SAFC) after spending one season in Phoenix. It was a down year for Forbes out West. He only scored three goals in 24 appearances for the Western Conference Champions. Forbes earned time in the USL Cup Final as well, subbing into the game in the final 15 minutes of the match they would ultimately lose to Louisville. Can Forbes recapture the magic of his 2017 season in San Antonio when he lead the team in goals and assists on the way to their only playoff birth in team history? That is the biggest question for Forbes in 2019. He showed flashes of his old self against FC Dallas, netting one of San Antonio's three goals. That's a great early sign that the Billy of old might be back.
Next is the addition of Jack Barmby. Barmby comes from the Portland Timbers organization where he logged 30+ matches both for Timbers in MLS and also for Timbers 2 in USL over the last 3 seasons. He scored six goals and added three assists in USL play in 2018. The 24 year old should be a thrilling addition for SAFC.
Michael Lahoud is a 32 year old veteran who brings a ton of experience to SAFC both at the MLS and USL levels. His career includes stops with Chivas USA, Philadelphia Union, New York Cosmos (NASL) and most recently FC Cincinnati where he made 24 appearances last season. Lahoud was the 9th pick in the 2009 MLS SuperDraft with Chivas USA.
Leeroy Maguraushe is a 23 year old who joins SAFC from the University of North Carolina Greensboro, tallying 13 goals and 14 assists in his college career. He’s likely going to face an uphill battle for playing time with so many talented players in front of him.
Cristian Parano is a 19 year old who made his professional playing debut in Argentina last year with first division side San Martin de San Juan. He impressed in training camp as a trialist and earned a playing contract. He is likely a depth signing for 2019.
San Antonio soccer fans got an unexpected surprise when it was announced that former San Antonio Scorpion and NASL Champion Walter Restrepo would be returning to Toyota Field in 2019. In addition to his talents, Restrepo will bring a Championship pedigree back to San Antonio with him. He was also NASL Champion in 2015 with New York Cosmos and with Deportes Tolima in the Columbian first division last year. The 30 year old also notched 15 matches in USL play with Tampa Bay Rowdies in 2017. Expect a warm welcome back for Restrepo when he makes his 2019 home debut.
Last, but certainly not least, San Antonio FC made a big splash last week when they announced the signing of 15 year old Academy product Leo Torres. Torres became the youngest player ever to sign a contract in the USL Championship. Torres has been called into US Youth National Team Camps twice in his career, most recently with the U-15's this past January. Torres will finish out his SAFC Pro Academy U-15 season which will end this summer and at that point he will transition to the Senior Team. Expectations for his first SAFC season are likely going to be on the low end when you consider when he'll join the Senior Team and the talent level ahead of him. But hopefully he can earn his way on to the pitch sometime this season. Anything else for Torres this year is surely gravy.
The 2019 SAFC Midfielders have a lot to prove. It was another down scoring year for the silver and black last season and it all begins with their ability to possess the ball in the heart of the pitch and to do so with purpose. To get back to USL Cup Playoffs they will need strong performances from old faces and new ones alike. The potential of this group is very high. Imagine Laing, Forbes, and Barmby all playing at their highest level when going forward on the attack. It could be an explosive group. Can they match that expectation with on field results? That answer will go a long way towards determining how successful San Antonio becomes in 2019.
The starting Midfielders so far in Pre Season have been Pecka, Castillo, Barmby, and Forbes. Restrepo and Laing have also nabbed one start each.
What are your thoughts on the 2019 SAFC Midfielders? Leave your comments below.
Gianluca Cuomo - Mosta FC (Malta)
Jose Escalante - Juticalpa (Honduras)
Omar Gordon - OKC Energy
Sonny Guararrama – Austin Bold FC
Mikey Lopez - Birmingham Legion
Connor Presley – Out of Contract
Maxi Rodriguez – Out of Contract
Ryan Roushandel - Named to SAFC Coaching Staff
Charlie Ward – Ottawa Fury FC
IMAGES: SAN ANTONIO FC TWITTER