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THE MORNING TEA – 2019 Letdown Fueling San Antonio’s Playoff Drive

By NICHOLAS MURRAY - nicholas.murray@uslsoccer.com, 09/18/20, 7:30AM EDT

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Chula Vista natives coming through to boost SD Loyal; Pirmann lays out expectations for Memphis

Two more postseason berths were booked on Thursday night, giving us almost half the field sorted for the playoffs next month. To start this morning, we take a look at one of those clubs, and how last year’s disappointment has fueled a remarkable season so far. Here’s your Morning Tea for Friday.

 

THE BIG STORY

Eleven months ago, almost to the day, San Antonio FC had a place in the USL Championship Playoffs in the palm of its hand.

Needing a victory to clinch a postseason berth, the side had a two-goal lead and a man-advantage against a Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC that had long-since been eliminated from playoff contention.

And then the unthinkable happened. A two-goal rally by the visitors – including a incredibly unfortunate own goal by Ebenezer Ackon – left the Toyota Field crowd stunned as they and the players knew their fate was no longer in their grasp. One New Mexico United victory later that night, and the playoffs were gone.

For many teams, playoff action is the baseline achievement required of a season. To lose out in the way San Antonio did on that felt like a wasted season. As Kai Greene said the following January, “Still remember that feeling of not making the playoffs like it was yesterday. We’re bringing the playoffs back to this city, you can remember I said that too.”

On Thursday, Greene’s quote was appropriately revived by San Antonio’s social media team after Wednesday night saw the club not only clinch its playoff place with a 3-2 win against Austin Bold FC, but also earn first place in Group D as well. With only one defeat during the campaign so far, San Antonio has left little doubt about its potential to be among the last teams standing throughout the year.

With a combination of a bright attack powered by veteran Luis Solignac and two bright youngsters in returning Young Player of the Year Cristian Parano and local standout Jose Gallegos and a defense that has been far more consistent than a season ago, San Antonio has on the face of it all the ingredients a team needs to succeed this postseason.

“I think our team is really strong and united,” said Parano following Wednesday’s win, which saw him reach four goals and four assists this season. “We get stronger and our chemistry gets better with each match, and I'm happy for that because we're improving every day. We understand that we can enjoy these moments, which is important but overall, we're just happy to get the win.”

For a team with San Antonio’s profile and support, the past two seasons without playoff soccer to look forward to have been tough. The club has produced big moments, but not with the consistency of the 2017 team that reached the Western Conference Semifinals before falling in a penalty shootout. It has also provided a platform for local talent to shine, which continued on Wednesday with six players in the 18-man squad either holding local ties or graduates of the SAFC Pro Academy.

With homefield advantage now the next goal – SAFC is currently projected as the No. 2 seed with a maximum potential points total of 39pts with three games remaining going into Thursday night’s action – nothing is set to change in terms of the mindset of the side.

And the memory of last season’s disappointment can continue to fuel the fire of those looking the change the story’s ending this year.

“Our approach we’ve taken from day one will remain,” said Head Coach Alen Marcina on Wednesday. “We will take it one day at a time. Yes, we have won our group, but we aren’t content. That’s one of our goals and we have achieved it, but we have plenty of other goals we want to achieve. So now our focus is on OKC Energy and getting three points again at home in front of our fans.”

 

TONIGHT'S ACTION

Orange County SC vs. Las Vegas Lights FC

(5-4-3)
Group B

10:00 p.m. ET |
Venue: Championship Soccer Stadium

FiveThirtyEight.com Predictor: OC Wins 61% | Draw 22% | LV Wins 16%
(2-7-3)
Group B
The Gist: Orange County SC will try to break a three-game losing streak and get back into the race for the playoffs in Group B as it faces Las Vegas Lights FC, which completes a short stay in Southern California with its second game of the week. Lights FC is coming off a 3-2 defeat to the LA Galaxy II on Tuesday night, a contest that saw Las Vegas take a two-goal lead inside the opening half-hour only to see the hosts rally back for victory at Dignity Health Sports Park. The win moved Los Dos three points ahead of Orange County in second place in the group standings, and with both sides having four games to go getting back level on points on Friday night will be essential for OCSC. After suffering a 2-0 defeat away against another playoff contender in San Diego Loyal SC last Sunday night, Orange County is in need of a final push toward the postseason.
Discipline: None
 

THE SOCIAL CIRCLE

 

THE USL LOWDOWN

- Oakland Roots SC co-founder Edreece Arghandiwal was the guest on the latest episode of Fútbol with Grant Wahl, where he discussed the origins and social purpose that drives the club, and its move to the USL Championship for the 2021 season.

- This past Monday marked the fifth anniversary of his sobriety for Miami FC’s Sebastian Velasquez, whose struggles with alcohol threatened to derail his career as it was starting to take off in Major League Soccer. He spoke with Beautiful Game Network’s Carson Merk about his journey since then, and what it means to reach this point of his career.  

- Reno 1868 FC clinched its place in the Championship Playoffs on Thursday night as Emilio Ycaza starred in a 3-2 victory against Tacoma Defiance. The rookie scored his first professional goal with an outstanding finish from distance and then set up Foster Langsdorf for what proved to be the winner at Greater Nevada Field.

- Sacramento Republic FC also booked its seventh consecutive trip to the postseason thanks to Reno’s victory. Now it will try to overcome the three-point gap between the clubs in the final four games of the season that sees Reno host Sacramento for their final regular season meeting on Saturday, September 26.

- One of the notable names on the scoresheet for Hartford Athletic on Wednesday night was Justin Haak, whose first goal for the club since arriving on loan from New York City FC – and first goal in the professional ranks – helped seal victory against the New York Red Bulls II. The Journal Inquirer’s Adam Betz caught up with the 18-year-old and Athletic Head Coach Radhi Jaidi after the game.

- Memphis 901 FC Interim Head Coach Ben Pirmann told reporters that the remainder of the club’s season was about the team, not individuals, as he met with media for the first time. “We’ve all looked in the mirror, we’ve all held ourselves accountable and the only way to make that right is playing as hard as we can, fighting for the city, fighting for this club," he said. “We’ve all put our hands up and said nobody’s been quite good enough.”

- San Diego Loyal SC has seen its influence from nearby Chula Vista – where the club trains – ramp up in recent weeks, with recent arrivals like Los Angeles FC loanee Alejandro Guido and signings Austin Guerrero and Jordan Chavez all hailing from South County. With the club aiming to stay in the playoff race, its local talent could play a key role in the final stretch of the season that continues on Saturday night against Phoenix Rising FC.

- New Mexico United clinched its playoff place without kicking a ball on Wednesday night, but the club’s road to the postseason will remain a long one as it announced on Thursday its remaining games will be held at the venues of its opponents. That includes a potentially decisive meeting for first place in Group C against El Paso Locomotive FC on Saturday, September 26, which will be held at Southwest University Park.

- Since his arrival at Phoenix Rising FC, Corey Whelan versatility has been a very useful attribute for the side, allowing him to slot in anywhere along the back line and also serve as a strong defensive midfielder. Arizona Sports’ Jake Anderson spoke with the former Liverpool FC U-23 captain about his ability to thrive whatever the situation for the Group B leaders.

- Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC has earned its place in the postseason, but the side has a chance to finish with the best record in the Eastern Conference still in its sights with three games to go. The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s Greg Macafee writes the Hounds feel as though they are hitting their stride as the playoffs begin to draw near.

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