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How San Antonio FC’s new-found patience is building a different way to success

By NICHOLAS MURRAY -, 09/25/23, 10:55AM EDT


Defending title holders’ 4-0 victory against Orange County brought together urgency, quality in imperious display

San Antonio FC ran away with a 4-0 victory against Orange County SC on Saturday night, claiming its fourth consecutive trip to the USL Championship Playoffs. | Photo courtesy Darren Abate / San Antonio FC

Have you noticed what’s been happening to San Antonio FC?

The San Antonio FC that devoured teams with its directness in the league on the way to claiming the USL Championship title last season?

Somewhere along the way Head Coach Alen Marcina’s side seems to have found a little bit of patience. On Saturday night it got a just reward after as dominant display as it might have produced all season.

Defeating Orange County SC 4-0 at Toyota Field, everything clicked into place as it had regularly earlier this season. Tani Oluwaseyi and the recently returned Nathan Fogaça each had a goal and assist, the set pieces were on point as Jorge Hernández notched his league-leading 10th assist of the season, and SAFC not only earned itself a fourth consecutive trip to the playoffs, but both built a cushion to the teams below it in the standings and narrowed the gap to first-place Sacramento Republic FC to just a point.

“We’ve been proud of our performances,” said SAFC Head Coach Alen Marcina, whose side had drawn five times in a six-game winless run prior to its win against OCSC. “Tonight, we said we’ve got to dominate both boxes. In our box we’ve got to be focused and smart, to make good decisions, and then in the opponent’s box we say we have to be focused and ruthless. Wanting to score goals. And tonight, they executed flawlessly.”

And they did so through one of their best passing displays in a while. SAFC posted a 78.5 percent passing accuracy rate against Orange County – its second-highest mark in a game this season – while playing the second-fewest long passes (40) it has in a game this year.

It’s part of a trend that has maintained the urgency that has been so effective but provided more consistency and incisiveness in moving possession up the field. In each of the past eight games, SAFC has fired off fewer than its season average of 59.6 long passes per game, a strategy that with its 32.9 percent completion rate this season was starting to deliver diminishing returns in the big picture.

Instead, there are connections through the midfield. Hernández and Rida Zouhir have been instrumental in that change, each posting passing accuracy rates of 74 percent over the course of the season. Both players go forward with their passes more than any other direction, for sure, but now they’re joining the dots and making SAFC as dangerous as it has ever been in the final third.

San Antonio’s willingness to hold possession a little longer meant that while OCSC had half-chances to get back into the game after Fogaça’s goal in the sixth minute got the ball rolling, the hosts found the right balance of urgency and patience in taking a victory that boded well for what’s next.

“The truth is we’ve dropped way too many points this year,” said Oluwaseyi. “We’ve had a lot of games where we should’ve left with three points and something’s gone wrong and we’ve conceded and ended up tying so many of the last few matches. So, finally being able to see it over the line, see it over the 90 minutes, was incredible. From minute one to minute 90 everyone was locked in.”

After consecutive outings in which the side had let leads slip away – an uncharacteristic departure from a season ago, when SAFC dropped only two points from winning positions all season – San Antonio’s focus this week was re-establishing the elements that took it to a title a season ago.

San Antonio FC midfielder Rida Zouhir has brought both quality and goalscoring to the club on loan from Club de Foot Montreal this season. | Photo courtesy Darren Abate / San Antonio FC

“We knew coming into this week that if we got a lead, especially going into the second half, that there was no way they were taking that out of our hands,” said Oluwaseyi. “We battled through, right up until the end and we were able to come away with the victory.

“That’s just how it is as football players. You go through different experiences and situations and scenarios and what separates good players from great players, or good teams from great teams, is learning from your mistakes, learning from what you did wrong and just making sure you don’t do it again.”

With its combination of urgency and quality working in tandem, San Antonio could be primed for another postseason run to remember.

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