No position group exemplifies the overall changes of the San Antonio FC roster from 2018 to 2019 better than the defense. There is exactly one returning player from this group – GK Matt Cardone. That obviously means that San Antonio will have an entirely new back line this season, so it’s fair to say this is the group with the most question marks coming into the new season.
So where did everyone go? SAFC iron man Greg Cochrane and Stephen McCarthy both retired in the offseason. McCarthy landed locally at UIW as an Assistant Coach. Ryan Felix, Cyprian Hedrick, and Darnell King all signed with other USL Championship teams, with only Hedrick remaining in the West to face SAFC in 2019. GK Diego Restrepo also moved on to another USL West team – just up I-35 to Austin Bold FC, joining former SAFC players Kris Tyrpak and Sonny Guadarrama. Needless to say, that will certainly throw some gas on a rivalry fire that probably doesn’t need any more after all the MLS doings in the past year. That should be a fun one for the fans – go ahead and circle March 30th and July 3rd on your calendar. Lastly, backup keeper Armando Quezada, who was a late addition to the team last August, is out of a playing contract currently.
Enter all the new faces. The new group is headlined by USL veteran Defender Amer Didic. He spent the past three seasons with Swope Park Rangers, helping them to two Western Conference Championships. He was on the field for 27 shutouts during that span and also played for the senior team Sporting KC in MLS. It’s not a reach to expect Didic to be the defensive leader in 2019 and in just one pre-season game, he showed exactly why. Against FC Dallas this past weekend he was a force in central defense and he showed he can be valuable at both ends of the field, scoring a goal off of a Rafa Castillo set piece. The strike was worthy of any goal you would see by any Forward in the league. He should help SAFC a great deal this season.
Didic was also named as one of the top ten off-season signings in USL Championship this year, in this article:
Defender Joshua Yaro also arrives with MLS ties. Yaro was the second overall pick in the 2016 MLS Super Draft by the Philadelphia Union. He too arrives with USL experience, earning 41 appearances between the Union and their USL affiliate Bethlehem Steel combined in the last three seasons. Yaro has battled numerous injuries including being in the concussion protocol, a shoulder injury that kept him sidelined for four months, and an abdomen tear. He’ll be looking to rebound with what will hopefully turn out to be a healthy season here in San Antonio. He also got a start in the FC Dallas match and seemed to pair well with Kai Greene in the defensive wing.
Speaking of him, Defender Kai Greene is another new face that brings USL involvement with him. And yet another signing from our rivals to the south, RGV FC. The fourth such signing in the last two seasons. So far, no former RGV players have lasted in San Antonio for more than one season. But Greene will bring a wealth of USL playing experience to SAFC including 48 clearances in 18 appearances for RGV FC last season.
Defender Johnny Fenwick caught the eye of new SAFC assistant coach and former San Antonio Scorpions manager Alen Marcina while with the Des Moines Menace. Fenwick is an England native who has spent time in the Sheffield Wednesday and Newcastle United Academy programs. The 24 year old is fresh out of the college ranks via High Point University in North Carolina where he piled up accolades such as the Big South Defender of the Year.
SAFC also added Pascal Eboussi on loan from Czech Republic club MFK Vyskov. The 20 year old Eboussi hails from Cameroon and comes to San Antonio with USL experience, playing in 14 matches for the Colorado Switchbacks last year, notching 49 clearances.
Right before the start of Pre-Season, SAFC added Ebenezer Ackon. The 22 year old Ghana native most recently played at Bowling Green University in Ohio. He was selected by the Chicago Fire in the 2019 MLS SuperDraft in January but went unsigned and San Antonio was able to capitalize on his talents.
Finally, San Antonio added GK Jonathan Viscosi. The 27 year old has experience overseas in England and most recently, Finland. He brings a resume featuring 25 clean sheets to his name from his time in Finland. Is that enough to push Matt Cardone for the starting job this season? Barring anything happening in pre-season that proves otherwise, the expectation here is that Cardone is the opening day starter. Beyond that, well, we'll see. Cardone had 13 starts last season filling in for an injured Restrepo, leading SAFC to 6 wins and 2 draws over that span. For whatever it is worth, Cardone started the FC Dallas pre-season match and looked very much his old self. He did not allow any goals in one half of action.
If recent history is any indication, we can probably expect SAFC to look for a third keeper and perhaps one more defender for depth. No matter how it shakes out, this will be a much-scrutinized position group. Powell’s teams have been known for being built defense-first during the first three years of play for SAFC, so the expectation bar is high for this group to perform well. But this will be his biggest challenge yet – completely rebuilding the entire back line in one single off-season.
San Antonio FC gave up 48 goals in 2018 which was 11th out of 17 teams in the West. That was double the 24 they allowed in 2017 (granted, they did play two more games in 2018 vs 2017) when they finished second in the USL West; their only playoff season to date. They'll need to improve on that number if they want to make the playoffs this season. SAFC came up three points short of that goal last season, lasting until the final day of the USL regular season before being eliminated.
And will we see a traditional four man back line, or a hybrid three man look, which SAFC flashed last season? From a size standpoint, three Defenders top six feet, led by Didic and Eboussi, both listed at 6' 4", so there should be an imposing look in the middle of the defense no matter how it shakes out. Didic, Yaro, Greene, and Ackon were the starters in the lone Pre-Season game so far, so they would seem to have the early edge to be the leaders of this group.
San Antonio FC opens their 2019 USL Championship season at Toyota Field on Saturday March 9th against defending Western Conference Champions Phoenix Rising. Kickoff is at 7:30pm.
What are your thoughts on San Antonio’s defense going into the season? Leave us your comments below
Matt Cardone (GK)
Jonathan Viscosi (GK)
Greg Cochrane – Retired
Ryan Felix – Tampa Bay Rowdies
Cyprian Hedrick – Tulsa Roughnecks
Darnell King – Nashville SC
Stephen McCarthy – Retired (UIW Asst Coach)
Armando Quezada (GK) – No Contract
Diego Restrepo (GK) – Austin Bold FC
IMAGES: SAN ANTONIO FC TWITTER