Photo courtesy Darren Abate / San Antonio FC
After falling agonizingly short of a place in the postseason in its inaugural season, San Antonio FC enjoyed having a full offseason to build a team and put together an impressive side coming into 2017. Those changes led to a much stronger performance as the Silver and Black finished second in the USL Western Conference and managing a first trip to the USL Cup Playoffs.
Improved at both ends of the park, SAFC managed seven more wins in 2017, scoring nine more goals and conceding 11 fewer in an all-round improvement led by the organization implemented by Head Coach Darren Powell. SAFC rode a hot start to the season, proving unbeatable for the first 14 weeks of the season, and while the season ended in disappointing fashion on the wrong end of a penalty shootout decision against OKC Energy FC in the Western Conference Semifinals, there was plenty to be optimistic about moving into the new year.
Record: 17-4-11, 62pts
Place: Second in the Western Conference
Goals For: 45
Goals Against: 24
USL Cup Playoffs: Western Conference Quarterfinals (W 2-1 vs. Tulsa Roughnecks FC), Western Conference Semifinals (L 1-1 AET, 4-1 on penalties vs. OKC Energy FC)
2017 leaders: Billy Forbes (10 goals, 9 assists), Diego Restrepo (68 saves)
After conceding 36 goals in 2016, San Antonio FC looked to strengthen defensively, and in 2017 they did just that. After Matt Cardone made a stellar start to the season, only to suffer what ended up proving a season-ending injury in the club's fifth game of the year against Vancouver, the experience hand of Diego Restrepo meant there was no drop-off in quality between the sticks for SAFC. Restrepo claimed the USL Goalkeeper of the Year award with a league-leading 13 clean sheets. It was not just Restrepo responsible for that defensive effort with a strong defensive unit proving difficult to break down. Sebastien Ibeagha was at the fore there as he earned USL Defender of the Year honors.
After 14 matches undefeated to open the season, there was always the thought of how far that run would reach. When it finally came to an end, however, it came to a crashing halt. San Antonio lost its first game of the season on June 24th, a 1-0 loss to Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC, and then only won two of the next nine matches, a 1-0 win against Phoenix Rising FC on July 29th and a 1-0 win against Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2 on August 23rd before finally hitting form again. That run allowed Real Monarchs SLC to take control at the top of the Western Conference, and left SAFC with too big a margin to bridge over the final quarter of the season to claim the club's first silverware.
A phenomenal team goal capped a beautiful San Antonio FC counter attack, with a slide tackle stealing possession before the ball was driven forward by Billy Forbes through the middle of the field. His pass found Kris Trypak on the right, and A.J. Ajeakwa showed tremendous awareness to peel away from the retreating defense, creating space for a perfect first-time finish into the roof of the net.
A corner created a dangerous opportunity for Sacramento Republic FC which the SAFC defense was unable to initially clear. The ball dropped to Emrah Klimenta on the left side of the penalty area, but twice he was denied by Lee Johnston from close range before his defense made the clearance.