San Antonio FC (24-5-5, 77 points) closed out the 2022 Regular Season with a 2-2 draw against Orange County SC (7-13-14, 34 points) at Toyota Field on Saturday night in front of a sell out crowd of 8,015 fans. Ignacio Bailone scored for SAFC in the first half while Cristian Parano's second half stunner tied the match at 2-2 and earned San Antonio the point. San Antonio’s 77 points on the season are the second most in a season in league history, trailing only Phoenix’s 78 from 2019 for the league record.
These two teams played in the Western Conference Final last season, which Orange County won in a penalty kick shootout. Orange County went on to win USL Cup. It has been a much different story this season for OC-SC. They are the last place team in the Western Conference and have won only 7 matches. SAFC, on the other hand, looks poised for a repeat deep playoff run.
The match concludes a historic season for San Antonio FC that saw them finish with eight straight games unbeaten and 24 wins overall, by far the best season in SAFC history. SAFC finished the regular season tied for league records in wins (24) and shutouts (17).What comes next, however, is what will matter most. SAFC earned a first round playoff bye and will start their post season run in the Western Semifinals on Friday October 28th. SAFC clinched the overall top seed and will not play any games away from Toyota Field the rest of the way. There won't be many excuses if this team, the best in the USL regular season, doesn't take the next step and finsh the season by winning the Western Conference and hosting USL Cup at Toyota Field.
San Antonio FC will have to defy history to get there. In the current two Conference format in USL Championship dating back to 2015, the top seed in the West has never appeared in the USL Cup Final.
SAFC Manager Alen Marcina reflected after the win, “Being regular season champs, which is first in club history, it's an incredible achievement. Not many clubs can ever say that, or go through many years without the opportunity to state that they were regular season champions. So, I'm so proud of the collective, and when I say the collective, it's everybody. The fans, front office, ownership, technical staff, coaching staff, medical [staff] and players. Also, since everybody has chipped in, it's the reason for our success, and it's something that's a moment and opportunity to celebrate. Collectively, everybody has earned it and after a day or two the focus is on the playoffs.”
Afetr a Brian Iloski goal got things going for Orange County, Nacho Bailone buried a header off a Justin Dhillion cross in the 43' to level the match at 1-1. It was the 6th Goal of the year for Bailone and his second straight game with a Goal. It was the team leading 8th Assist of the year for Dhillon.
Michael Orozoco would score in first half added time to put OC-SC right back in the lead at 2-1 which would hold through Halftime.
Parano had an immediate answer in the second half. With four OC-SC Defenders in his vicinity in the 46', Parano belted a shot from outside the OC box that painted the top left corner of Rakovsky's net to complete the scoring. The dazzling strike was easily one of the best SAFC Goal's of the entire season. It was the first Goal of the year for Parano who, on his second stint with the Club, was only appearing in his 10th match of the season for SAFC.
Dhillon commented after the match, “I think that we’ve developed a culture here. And it’s just been ingrained. We had a lot of returners come back so we’ve experienced that culture, that Alen’s created with us. And every year that we progress that culture becomes stronger and stronger and stronger, so I think it’s developed on what we’ve done in the past, and you’re seeing it culminating in what it was always meant to be.”
Next up for San Antonio FC is the start of the Playoffs. They will face an opponent TBD on Friday October 28th at 7:30pm in the Western Conference Semifinals. The USL Playoffs will begin next weekend but SAFC has a first round playoff bye.
Full highlights from San Antonio FC vs Orange County SC can be seen below.
IMAGES: SAN ANTONIO FC TWITTER
PHOTO: DARREN ABATE / INSTAGRAM: @PEAKACTION