San Antonio FC took a 2-0 victory against Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC before a sellout crowd of 8,245 fans at Toyota Field on Sunday night in the Western Conference Final of the 2022 USL Championship Playoffs, sending the hosts to their first trip to the USL Championship Final next Sunday night on home turf.
Here are three things we took away from the contest.
1. LESS IS MORE: You remember that stat last week, how San Antonio FC won its Western Conference Semifinal with the fewest registered completed passes in a game (98) in USL Championship history? Well, on Sunday night the hosts outdid themselves.
Yes, against Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC on Sunday night, San Antonio was credited with 96 passes completed, surpassing its prior total while still advancing. There were more cumulative fouls (32) than cumulative shots (26) as well, an indication of how chippy the game was throughout.
But, as always, San Antonio’s defense shone. It allowed no big chances to the visiting Switchbacks, and was sharper to the ball consistently, ensuring the steady pressure the visitors tried to apply never became a wave. With 22 interceptions and 12 of 14 tackles won, SAFC firm in impressive style once again.
2. MALONEY MAGIC: Technically, Connor Maloney’s first professional goal came in another knockout competition – the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup – when he opened his San Antonio FC account with a 54th-minute goal in this year’s Second Round against D’Feeters Kicks SC. Still, his first goal in the USL Championship, coming in his 78th appearance across the regular season and playoffs, was a great moment for one of SAFC’s tireless workers.
The Pennsylvania native has become a crucial figure in SAFC’s transformation to title contender since his arrival for the 2020 season after previously briefly playing on loan in the Championship with Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC. That’s likely why he was handed the captain’s armband in the absence of PC for Sunday night’s game while grinding through another stellar defensive display. Adding his second goal overall in the club’s colors set SAFC on course for victory as its streak of not having suffered defeat when scoring first continued to 45 consecutive outings.
3. SWITCHBACKS STYMIED: Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC knew it had never won at Toyota Field in club history going into Sunday night’s game and had been shut out in both the regular-season meetings between the sides this season. A different approach seemed to be employed as the Switchbacks seemed intent on giving as good as they got in the physicality stakes while trying to shift play laterally to try and find pockets of space.
In the end, the plan as it was just didn’t quite come off. There were some hesitant moments that caused problems – San Antonio won possession four times in Colorado Springs’ attacking third as visiting players had moments of indecision that could have proven costly – and even when the Switchbacks were able to find some joy it didn’t result in the end product they needed. After a great overall season, the biggest puzzle the Switchbacks still must figure out will have to wait until next year for another try.