San Antonio FC (20-3-5, 63 points) extended their lead at the top of the Western Conference to 11 points following a 1-0 win on Saturday night over San Diego Loyal (16-4-9, 52 points). Six games remain for SAFC who inched closer to clinching the top seed in the West and a first round Playoff bye. SAFC did secure a Home Playoff game with the win, but they are no doubt thinking bigger.
To that end, San Antonio FC also leads Louisville by three points, and with a match in hand on top of the points, in the race for the overall top seed in all of USL Championship.
The only Goal of the Match was scored by SAFC Forward Ignacio Bailone in the 30th minute. San Antonio Defender Connor Maloney sent a long pass down the left flank and found Bailone in a 1 vs 1 situation. He controlled the ball, beat his man, drove straight into the San Diego box and fired a shot that beat San Diego Keeper Koke Vegas into the lower corner of the net to earn the winner. It was the first start of the season for the player affectionately known by his teammates as "Nacho" and his third Goal of the season. It was his first Goal since June.
The win for SAFC avenged one of their worst losses of the season, a 3-0 defeat in San Diego on August 6th. It was the first time Landon Donovan's Loyal were back at Toyota Field since their 2-0 loss to San Antonio FC in the 2021 Playoffs last November. Here's to guessing they didn't enjoy this trip to Toyota Field any more than the previous one.
Said SAFC Manager Alen marcina after the match, “I’m incredibly proud of the team. We go into with six influential players out, and we made no excuses. The mentality, that we’re incredibly proud of, of all the players, is something that’s been instilled since 2020 and we’ve carried it through. So to get three points, against one of the best teams in the league was a massive result for us.”
In the second half, San Diego was awarded a Penalty Kick for a foul in the 58th minute committed by SAFC Midfielder Mohammed Abu. That set up the Loyal's Alejandro Guido to take the PK attempt in the 60th minute. SAFC Keeper Jordan Farr came up with the match saving stop, and perhaps just as important, did not allow the ball to rebound back into the box for a second attempt at Goal by the visitors.
Farr talked about his team-record-tying 12th clean sheet of the season after the match, which also leads all of USL Championship. “I’d say consistency. As a keeper you can’t be too high. I think I fell into that trap, potentially … as we were doing well you kinda think one way, and then you get kind of humbled. And so, for keepers, it’s just good to be steady. So for me it’s just playing every game. We train really hard during the week, and so when it comes to Saturday you feel like you’ve earned it. You feel like everybody on this field has earned their spot. And so it’s easy to stay confident when you’re training hard during the week. And that goes out to the staff, that goes out to the team as well.”
SAFC's Maloney spoke about the match atmosphere. “I think these fans are awesome and there’s a different energy in this building and when we come out here all our focus is on the field and winning and doing it for the fans and organization. I agree it’s a fortress, which you can see based on our record here. It’s pretty unbelievable and a credit to the guys and the coaching staff. But also, our fans. We wouldn’t be where we are without them.”
Next up for San Antonio FC is the continuation of their 4-match home stand. Their next opponent is New Mexico United who will come to Toyota Field on Saturday September 17th for a 7:30pm Kick-off. SAFC defeated New Mexico 1-0 back in April behind a Justin Dhillon Penalty Kick Goal.
Full highlights from the SAFC / San Diego match are below.
IMAGES: SAN ANTONIO FC TWITTER