Photo courtesy Darren Abate / San Antonio FC
SAN ANTONIO – San Antonio FC is up against it to reach the USL Cup Playoffs for a second consecutive season after defeats on the road last week to the Swope Park Rangers and Saint Louis FC, but the team is staying upbeat as it enters a three-game homestand at Toyota Field to end the regular season that kicks off on Saturday night against Seattle Sounders FC 2 (8:30 p.m. ET | Match Center | ESPN+).
Knowing it likely needs victory in all three games to stand a chance at the postseason, San Antonio Head Coach Darren Powell is looking for a sharp opening to the game that will get his side on the front foot early against an S2 side that has been eliminated from playoff contention.
“Consistency is key in this league and every game has its challenges whether it’s at home or away,” said Powell. “We certainly faced some challenges last week but now what we’re looking for from the players is a positive response. Being at home with familiar surroundings and our amazing fans will help, and it’s very important that we come out focused to earn those points and keep the pressure on everyone trying to secure those playoff spots.”
If there’s a reason for optimism San Antonio’s side it is that the three remaining three contests all look winnable on paper. Following the visit from S2 there will be visits from another two sides who are playing for pride to close the season in Las Vegas Lights FC and South Texas Derby rival Rio Grande Valley FC, while the sides SAFC is chasing have what look like trickier finishes to their respective seasons.
That said, there has been a good lack of predictability in recent weeks as to how the results will fall, meaning San Antonio is going to have to take care of its business before it starts looking for scores from elsewhere.
“It’s very difficult to predict scores in the USL,” said Powell. “The scores all year have been different than what you see based on form, so our job is to make sure we earn points starting on Saturday night to put pressure on the team’s above us. It will be a big fight but we’re looking forward to that challenge.”
RENO TAKES AIM AT SIX: After Reno 1868 FC put in a comprehensive performance on Wednesday night to take a 4-0 victory against Rio Grande Valley FC, the side will look to end its four-game homestand on Saturday night by completing a six-point week when Tulsa Roughnecks FC visits Greater Nevada Field (10 p.m. ET | Match Center | ESPN+).
Reno could clinch a place in the postseason for a second consecutive season with a win should San Antonio FC fail to take victory against Seattle Sounders FC 2 earlier in the evening, but the side is aiming higher than simply reaching the postseason after falling in the Western Conference Quarterfinals last year.
“I think last year’s [playoff] result made everyone feel hungry and I think everyone that is new has bought into the idea that we don’t need to just make the playoffs, we need to win,” said 1868 FC goalkeeper Matt Bersano. “A win this weekend gets us one step closer.”
Reno had to fight back from a halftime deficit to take a 1-1 draw when it visited the Roughnecks back in May but will be keen to take victory and move a point away from clinching a playoff place should San Antonio also take victory this weekend. With games remaining against top-five sides the Portland Timbers 2, Phoenix Rising FC and Orange County SC to follow, anything less than victory against Tulsa would raise the pressure on those three contests, but Head Coach Ian Russell is confident going into the contest with the Roughnecks.
“We’ve put ourselves in a good position,” said Russell. “It’ll be battle [against Tulsa]. They’re just playing for pride at this point, but it’s a team that we’re able to move around and create a lot of chances.”
‘LITTLE MISTAKES’ COSTING MONARCHS: Real Monarchs SLC enters Saturday’s clash with Rocky Mountain rival Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC at Zions Bank Stadium (9 p.m. ET | Match Center | ESPN+) looking to snap a six-game winless streak that has put its place in the top four under threat, but Head Coach Jamison Olave believes the side can turn things around in time for the playoffs with more attention to detail in the closing three games of the regular season.
“I think it’s the little mistakes that are costing us these matches,” said Olave. “In the first half against Orange County we played really well. Against LA, I take full responsibility because the players did what I asked them to do. I made the decision for us to press them tonight after playing on Wednesday. I think the team got a little tired and stretched. Maybe I make a different decision going into this game, but we’ll watch the game back and see what we can do differently.”
The Monarchs’ home dominance has been tested of late with the side suffering its first loss at Zions Bank Stadium to San Antonio FC before being held to a draw by Saint Louis FC in their last two outings on home turf. With the Switchbacks having recently claimed victory when the teams met at Weidner Field, getting some payback and back to the form that saw the side contending for top spot in the Western Conference is the priority for the Monarchs over its next two outings on its home turf.
“We made the playoffs and that’s good for the team. It’s good for the organization and for us,” said Olave. “We’re not happy that we made it right now because the way we’re playing right now. We did a great job in the past and at the beginning we were a better and stronger team. For that we’ve made the playoffs.”
AROUND THE WEST: The USL Cup Playoffs may not be the destination for Rio Grande Valley FC this season, but the side wants to put in a strong final home showing for its fans when it hosts Fresno FC on Saturday night at H-E-B Park. “We want to make sure that our last home game we come out with a positive mentality, with a positive influence and take the right step forward,” said Toros Head Coach Gerson Echeverry. … Las Vegas Lights FC rounds out a busy week at Cashman Field with the visit of OKC Energy FC on Saturday night after having gone toe-to-toe with Western Conference leaders Orange County SC in a 5-3 loss on Wednesday. The defeat was a tough one for Lights FC Head Coach Isidro Sánchez, but also one that showed where the side will need to improve for the 2019 season. “At the end of the day, this team is in first place, and today, if you watched our team closely, we were there with them the whole time," said Sánchez. “The big difference between their team and our team is consistency, and how long they can maintain that good performance.”