Toyota field was packed once again last Saturday as SAFC defended their home pitch for only the second time this season, returning to face a Tulsa Roughnecks FC (TUL) side who’ve struggled for most of this young season.
As fans continued to file in during the opening minutes of the match, SAFC looked comfortable and focused, ready to put the woes of the recent road stint behind them and get back in the win column. It was evident patience would be the key on offense, and when Sam McBride passed to captain and keeper Ford, he emphatically, but smoothly got the ball to Castillo midfield. The message was clear: The mental lapses that had previously plagued exchanges in this part of the field had been addressed.
It was a physical match, as all SAFC matches have been to date, but clearly Tulsa were intent on disrupting play in the midfield by just about any means, repeatedly fouling Rafa Castillo in particular. But the offense continued to develop and mount attacks nonetheless. The exchanges between Aroujo, Rafa, and Alvarez during this first third of the match were something we’ve yet to see from San Antonio this year, playing off one another in traffic, being patient and unselfish, and ultimately finding vulnerabilities in the defense.
The play in the middle created opportunities for the guys outside and up top. In the 22nd minute Bobby Moseley found some space on the defensive right side, quickly made his way into the box and got off a scorching shot on goal that Tulsa keeper Alex Mangels (who came into the game with 29 saves) was really quite lucky to corral, because Shawn Chin was there and would have had zero problems converting the goal had the keeper not controlled. The offense as a whole looked more aggressive, looking to apply pressure and produce chances, rather than sit back look for opportunities off opponents’ miscues.
Defender Greg Cochrane increasingly exploited the defensive right side as the half wore on, and in the 29th managed to get off a very promising cross to Chin who was waiting in the box, but the ball was just high and could not be reigned in. Alvarez continued to create space in the middle, often making defenders look foolish, and coupled with outside attacks of Mosely and Cochrane, SAFC were more dangerous in the offensive half of the field than they have been all season. All of this culminated in the 38th when Moseley, on the attack again, found Alvarez in the middle, who wasted no time getting it ahead to an open Shawn Chin who quickly lost Tulsa defender Matt Whatley and keeper Mangels, who had come off his line, and blasted the ball in for the first score of the night.
Meanwhile Tulsa continued to collect fouls on defense while failing to establish much of anything on offense. The San Antonio defense, anchored as usual by Stephen McCarthy, was just too much for the visiting team, and as the half came to a close, a Tulsa set piece was thwarted by a Rafa Castillo header, putting an exclamation point on the defensive clinic our our club put on during this first half.
Victor Aroujo continued to impress in the 46th minute as San Antonio looked to maintain its offensive aggression, getting off a rocket that just glanced off of a defender, but signaling that the onslaught would not let up. Alvarez picked up where he left off as well, looking for and almost connecting with a streaking Chin on two occasions early in the half. The offensive performance would be interrupted in the 48th, however, when Tulsa forward Kaleemullah got off a cross to an open Sammy Ochoa who managed to get it in the net and tie the game.
SAFC would not allow the scales to remain balanced for long, though. In the 68th, after being harassed and even appearing to fight through a leg injury, midfielder Rafa Castillo willed his way from the middle of the field, and while driving to his left, cannoned a shot from 20 yards out, the ball brushing off the fingers of the outstretched keeper, finding the back of the net and restoring the SAFC lead.
The match appeared as though it would coast to an end as things stood at 2-1, when Manolo Sanchez came in the game in the 82nd – one of a handful of substitutes who were called upon during the closing minutes due to what appeared to be more than one case of cramping. Sanchez established his rhythm early, finding himself on the receiving end of a corner, he staved off two defenders for what seemed to be an eternity, found some daylight and pounded the ball toward the goal. Mangels was there for the save, but couldn’t control it, and that’s when forward Jason Johnson showed his composure, not rushing the shot, but looping in an absolute dagger that the keeper had no chance to reach, bringing the score to 3-1, SAFC.
The club would hold on and record their second win of the season, earning three points in the standings and moving up to 5th place in the Western Conference. Rio Grand Valley FC will be in town Saturday May 7th, for what promises to be a challenging match as they look to bounce back form a 2-0 loss at the hands of Los Dos. A solid showing by SAFC fans is imperative, this time more than usual, as RGVFC will likely have more supporters present at Toyota Field than previous visiting clubs.