San Antonio FC and Sacramento Republic FC both felt they could have emerged with victory on Saturday night, but the stalemate between the clubs showed impressive qualities. | Photo courtesy Darren Abate / San Antonio FC
In the final analysis, there was little to separate San Antonio FC and Sacramento Republic FC at Toyota Field on Saturday night.
Each side ended the game with 15 shots, with the hosts arguably creating marginally the better chances.
Both teams were rock solid defensively, with San Antonio narrowly claiming a higher success rate in duels and aerials, but not to a margin that would matter.
San Antonio committed more fouls. Sacramento received more yellow cards.
And both sides came away feeling they could have won despite the challenges the contest posed.
For San Antonio, it was a matter of personnel. Without 2022 Championship Defender of the Year Mitchell Taintor, the defending title holders were forced into a realignment defensively. Connor Maloney dropped into the back line, PC had to play at right wingback, and after substitutions in the second half there were more adjustments for Head Coach Alen Marcina to make.
“Kimarni [Smith] had to go in late as a left wingback,” said Marcina. “We haven’t played him there this year, you had Connor [Maloney] first time playing center back [this season], played him there. Zico [Bailey], then we had to switch Shannon [Gomez] who’s coming off an injury. Then he’s going to the left and then coming to the right, PC had to start… that’s a lot of moves in the back. But we didn’t miss a beat, and that’s impressive. In my eyes, that’s highly impressive.”
For Sacramento, there was the fatigue from an Open Cup contest it had made harder than it needed, and the challenge of taking on the side with the longest active home undefeated streak in the league. Republic FC matched the effort and work-rate of the hosts and were pleased to walk away with their point.
“Obviously it gives us confidence that we were the better team, and we probably deserve more from the game,” said Sacramento Head Coach Mark Briggs. “But we’ve just got to keep focusing on ourselves and keep doing what we know is right. We believe the results will come because of that.”
As the two Western Conference leaders battled to a stalemate, victories elsewhere for San Diego Loyal SC and Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC tightened the group at the top of the standings. It’s a familiar group, the same four teams that finished at the top of the West’s standings at the end of the past regular season.
But Saturday’s battle gave a feeling that this is a game we’re likely to be seeing with everything on the line in November.
“They put [on] a lot of pressure, they have the fans [behind them],” said Sacramento’s Luis Felipe Fernandes. “We worked on the things that we thought could hurt them. We saw how they play. But more than anything, the desire that the guys showed tonight was amazing, I think. They put on a fight. It was a good result on the road against a team like that.”
Sacramento Republic FC's Luis Felipe Fernandes challenges San Antonio FC's Connor Maloney as he looks to clear during Saturday night's contest at Toyota Field. | Photo courtesy Darren Abate / San Antonio FC
There’s no easing up for either squad, particularly this week.
Sacramento will head home to take on the Switchbacks, the side that eliminated Briggs’ squad from the playoffs last year. For San Antonio, it’s a rematch of the 2022 Championship Final, this time with Louisville City FC playing host at Lynn Family Stadium.
For both sets of players, it’s exactly the sort of challenge they relish.
“Coach [Marcina] said it before the match – these are games you want to play in because of the intensity and the atmosphere,” said San Antonio goalkeeper Jordan Farr. “As far as a playoff atmosphere that’s what you want every game, and they brought it. We brought it. And it’s going to be the same. I mean Louisville, they don’t have short-term memory. They know what happened in November, so it’s going to be a fight. It’s going to be fun.”
The postseason is still six months away, but its potential for drama is right here in front of us.