Image: Darren Abate / San Antonio FC
San Antonio FC’s 2017 roster featured both the 2017 USL Defender of the Year, Seb Ibeagha, and 2017 Goalkeeper of the year, Diego Restrepo.
While Restrepo returned for 2018, Ibeagha’s transfer to New York City FC and fellow center back Stephen McCarthy’s injuries have forced the 2018 back line into a bit of a rotation.
On the other side of the field, San Antonio has been generating significantly more chances than in the past, though finishing those chances has proven to be problematic.
SAFC rolled out in a 3-4-3 when the club hosted Portland Timbers 2 Saturday, utilizing Cochrane, Felix, and King as true defenders, Escalante and Lopez as wing backs / midfielders, Roushandel and Pecka as central mids, and loading the box with Elizondo, Bruce, and Gordon. When Guadarrama replaced Elizondo and Presley replaced Roushandel, both played primarily along the front line for the remainder of the match.
The result was a 2-1 victory for the home side.
Man of the Match Omar Gordon pulled the home side even with his goal in the 86th minute, in addition to creating 4 of the team’s 17 chances Saturday. Alex Bruce pulled the squad ahead with his goal 3 minutes into stoppage time.
After the victory, SAFC head coach Darren Powell said of the new formation, “We felt we’ve been creating chances, so can we now get more players in the box? So we made a little tweak to try to make that happen and that was really a lot of what made today a possibility.”
This wasn’t the first time Powell praised the team’s creation of chances recently, as he and midfielder Mikey Lopez both mentioned a similar statistic at post-training media availability Wednesday. Both also emphasized the need to finish the chances.
The formation allows SAFC to move captain Ryan Roushandel into the midfield where he has been most successful since late 2017. It also allows dynamic attacking players like Omar Gordon, Sonny Guadarrama, Connor Presley, and Cesar Elizondo to focus most on finishing the chances being created by the dominant midfield SAFC has constructed this season.
Freeing up Gordon to break opposing defenders’ ankles closer to goal and relieving the pressure of being the lone striker from 19 year old Alex Bruce seems to be a recipe for success for both players. As a whole, the formation seems to take advantage of several SAFC players’ strengths despite being a look we haven’t seen regularly before Saturday.
It’s hard to place too much emphasis on one match, but if this is a formation that SAFC deploys regularly going forward it represents something special for the club. Since 2016, SAFC has generally used a 4-2-3-1 or 4-1-4-1, taking advantage of strong center back pairings, defensive midfielders, and goalkeeping to hold the opponents to low scores while the counter attack works to bank a goal or two.
Powell’s willingness to shake things up and appear to focus more on the final third despite the risk it presents in front of SA’s goal is one of the most interesting things to happen on the field this season. The formation seems to be one aimed at getting as many of SAFC’s best players on the field at one time while also giving them more opportunities to finish some of the chances they’ve created.
The club’s next challenge will be Wednesday when MLS side FC Dallas visits Toyota Field for the U.S. Open Cup fourth round matchup. San Antonio’s next scheduled USL match isn’t until Saturday June 16th, giving the club a full 10 days rest after the Open Cup duel. That’s plenty of time for the club to work on the new formation, the usual 4-2-3-1, or even something else we haven’t seen yet.
Let us know what you think of this topic and more on social media @CalledOffside