San Antonio FC has adopted a new hashtag for the upcoming 2019 USL Championship season. This year, #Defend210 will be the rallying cry on social media for SAFC fans and players alike.
While it is a unique hashtag, another single word could sum up the 2019 SAFC preseason.
After a successful 2017 season, the Alamo City club missed out on the 2018 USL Cup Playoffs entirely, coming in 9th place and finishing 3 points below the line. The result of the season came into the public eye as new-signing after new-signing came in the preseason, while familiar names like Omar Gordon, Maxi Rodriguez and Diego Restrepo found new clubs.
As of March 1st, 15 of the 22 players on the 2019 roster were not with the club’s senior team in 2018.
The 2018 season felt like a hangover from the party that was 2017. While SAFC’s playoff run fell short in 2017, things seemed to be set up for a continuation of dominance in 2018. But injuries, inconsistent play, and the departure of Sebastien Ibeagha all contributed to a team who struggled defensively. Off the field, fans and various members of the SAFC organization remarked that 2018 had a strange feeling to it.
2019 brings a new chance for the club and city to connect and produce a high quality product every Saturday that Toyota Field’s gates are open. The team has been rebuilt, and fans will reward the club’s strong push to contend for a USL Championship title.
Expected Starting XI
The USL season is long and unforgiving, with road trips as far as Tacoma, heat in Phoenix, and altitude in El Paso and Colorado Springs. Any U.S. Open Cup success is rewarded with an even busier schedule.
That in mind, the expected Starting XI is as follows:
(4-1-4-1) Matthew Cardone; Kai Green, Joshua Yaro, Amer Didic, Eby Ackon; Michael Lahoud; Billy Forbes, Cristian Parano, Jack Barmby, Lance Laing; Ever Guzman
The formation may change, but this XI was on the field for the majority of SAFC’s preseason match vs El Paso Locomotive. While that 75 minute match ended 0-0, there were moments that should excite SAFC fans.
If Yaro and Didic can stay healthy, SAFC could be among the most defensively sound teams in the Western Conference. Cardone is a proven goalkeeper at this point, with arguably the most complete back four he’s ever worked with since joining SAFC in 2016. Inconsistency at center back killed SAFC in 2018. Yaro and Didic should be the answer to that.
Look for Lahoud or Pecka to start in more of a defensive role, but both have the ability to make attacking runs. Fellow central midfielders Parano and Barmby, River Plate and Manchester United products respectively, are both diverse enough to drop back and play defense when needed. Parano in particular has shown an extremely high work rate in the preseason, and could end up being one of the best SAFC has ever played in the position.
Other central midfielders likely to have significant roles are Ethan Bryant, Rafa Castillo and the aforementioned Pecka.
On the outside, Forbes returns from Phoenix and Laing starts his first season as a full, non-loaned member of the club. The two share a common preference for the number 7 kit, and unfortunately a preference to play on the left side of the formation. We’ll see how this shakes out, but in the El Paso preseason game Forbes was generally on the right side, though he did frequently drift left.
Former Scorpions winger Walter Restrepo returns to San Antonio for 2019 and will look to challenge the flying 7’s for minutes should either find themselves in a slump.
Ever Guzman will likely get the chance to add to his club-leading goals scored total as the starting striker for the club. With the revamped midfield, there will be significant attacking threats that teams will have to account for, potentially setting up Guzman for better chances than in 2018.
Alex Bruce has shown strong potential in the minutes he has received, and is likely to rotate in for Guzman once the season gets into full swing.
San Antonio FC have the roster to play with the best in the West, and the desire to show the city is a soccer town. 2019 has the potential to be a marquee year for the club as it enters its 4th season. The first test comes March 9th as Phoenix Rising visits Toyota Field.