San Antonio FC will face their first MLS opponent in history when they play the Houston Dynamo in the fourth round of the US Open Cup on Wednesday evening.
Despite SAFC facing their first MLS opponent though, plenty of players on the roster have experience in America’s top league. In particular, Stephen McCarthy, Jason Johnson, Greg Cochrane and Carlos Alvarez have numerous MLS appearances to their names. Additionally, Josh Ford spent 2011-14 with the Seattle Sounders and made two appearances with Orlando City SC in 2015.
“It adds a little edge to the game, knowing that most of us had MLS experience over the years,” said Johnson, who played for the Dynamo from 2013 to 2015, scoring one goal in 21 appearances. “These guys are ready to go and prove that they still belong in that league.”
Although the match is technically against an MLS opponent, SAFC may face a lineup mixing MLS first-teamers, fringe MLS players and players from the Dynamo’s USL affiliate, Rio Grande Valley FC. The potential of seeing familiar faces from RGVFC will not bode well for SAFC, who has only a draw in three games against their fellow Texan USL team.
Then again, since MLS has taken a few weeks off, SAFC may face a squad heavier with experienced Dynamo players. As scary as that might sound, it may actually be beneficial for SAFC.
First, they won’t see the potentially haunting faces of RGVFC players and instead face a team they have no history and a clean slate with. Second, the Dynamo, unlike their lower-league affiliate, have disappointed in the league this year, so even if SAFC face a strong team, their opponents certainly won’t be the best MLS has to offer.
Regardless of what squad SAFC faces though, one thing is certain: SAFC will, officially, be up against an MLS team. The pressure is on whoever trots out wearing the Dynamo shirts to not let a club technically two divisions below come away with the victory, whether those players are Dynamo regulars or RGVFC players.
Of course SAFC will want to win and keep their cup run alive – it’s helping the team stay positive as they, like the Dynamo, struggle results-wise in the league – but if they lose, that’s not so bad either. On paper, SAFC are simply and clearly the underdogs to begin with, and an exit from the cup could allow them to focus all their attention on moving up the league table to make the playoffs. No matter the result, the experience against an MLS team is valuable.
Despite not officially facing an MLS team yet, SAFC got good preparation last Saturday against “Timbers 1.5,” as Coach Powell called them. The MLS break allowed Timbers 2 to field some of the MLS squad in order to keep them sharp before they resume their season this weekend. Powell said the experienced lineup they faced in Portland was good preparation for an actual MLS opponent like Houston in the Open Cup.
All the MLS links for SAFC are made even more important when you consider the club is seeking to join America’s top division a few years down the road. Until then though, Wednesday’s US Open Cup match is likely our best glimpse at what SAFC would look like against the big boys of American soccer, who they will one day face week after week.