All Images: Steve Aibel, Pitch Black News.Little Orca Sports
If you’ve been paying attention to San Antonio FC over the past month, you might’ve noticed some new faces and names on the field.
Franck Tayou, Taylor Morgan and Cesar Elizondo have all come into the team midway through the season. The trio has bolstered an attack depleted by a temporary injury layoff for Manolo Sanchez after returning from Puerto Rican national team duty and season-ending injuries to Shawn Chin and Victor Araujo.
The players weren’t just brought in to plug roster spots though. SAFC brought in all three players because they can add physicality, size and a spark to the offense that it perhaps lacked prior to their arrival. Franck “the Tank” Tayou in particular is known for his immense size and physicality, making him a noteworthy player whether he’s scoring goals or not.
“Coming on the field, I’m sure everyone looks at Franck like LeBron (James) is coming on,” Michael Reed said of the imposing striker after his second appearance and first goal on June 23. “Just his presence and size bring us confidence.”
Tayou has yet to start a game for SAFC, coming off the bench in the last five games. That hasn’t held him back though as he’s scored three goals in a mere 139 combined minutes (that would be just under 2 goals per full, 90-minute game, if that puts things into perspective).
Taylor Morgan’s integration into the squad has been quieter, but still valuable. The 6-foot-5 forward has provided a clear focal point up top in the two games he’s started, and his height makes him an obvious target for crosses and knockdowns. Powell has also noted Morgan’s ability to build up the attack by way of “unselfish running.”
While he may not get himself on the scoresheet much, he, his teammates, the coaching staff and fans won’t mind as long as he still helps things come together on the attacking end. Powell and his staff instill in their squad a sense of unity that puts the team’s accomplishment above all, so Morgan shouldn’t mind doing the less-praised work too much.
Cesar Elizondo is the newest addition to the team, but it took him next to no time to cause the opposing defense problems in his debut Saturday against Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2. Elizondo’s clever, quick footwork gave Vancouver a rough last 36 minutes in which their defense tripped him multiple times inside the 18-yard box within just 10 minutes of coming on (though the referee didn’t see these as penalty-worthy incidents).
Elizondo also came close to doubling SAFC’s precarious 1-0 lead with a debut goal near the end of the game, firing just high from a few yards out as the goalkeeper rushed forward and put him under pressure. It was a fairly unspectacular moment in an otherwise impressive debut. He showed some of what he has and hints of what more there is to come.
“Cesar came on and gave us a spark when a spark was needed,” Powell said after Elizondo’s debut Saturday. “It’s just a matter of him learning exactly where we want him to play, but the tools are there, he’s exciting to watch and we expect more and better things moving forward.”
Despite coming in later than Tayou and Morgan, Elizondo has a bit of a leg up on the two in terms of getting comfortable in this environment. Playing with the San Antonio Scorpions for a year and a half, Elizondo is returning to a familiar city and even stadium, though it has received some cosmetic changes in his time away.
The teammates he’s working with also provide some familiarity though. Elizondo played alongside the likes of Rafa Castillo, Milton Palacios and Matt Cardone in his time with the Scorpions and reuniting with them now is helping him work his way into the fold more quickly than if he knew nobody coming in.
Even without the connections Elizondo has though, both Tayou and Morgan have noted how well the squad has accepted them and helped them fit right in despite their recent arrivals. It’s a testament to the team’s professionalism that they’ve helped this trio become part of the squad so quickly and seamlessly.
“It’s not a surprise that the guys have been made to feel very welcome – that’s what we expect,” Powell said.
When asked what the fresh triumvirate of attackers brought to the team, you might expect Powell to describe their individual strengths and abilities – their size or agility, for example. Instead, he looks at them more collectively as three guys who maintain and improve the competition for spots up top. Even with the likes of Chin and Araujo out for the season, the new acquisitions keep the likes of Jason Johnson and Manolo Sanchez on their toes and working hard to stay near the top of the pecking order.
It’s hard to tell if it’s coincidence or not, but that alleged infusion of competitiveness might be part of what’s helped SAFC hit their best run of form in their short history over the last month or so. The new guys have not only plugged the holes in the ship’s hull, they’ve also manned the sails and charted SAFC on a better course forward.
Over halfway through the season now, SAFC is hopefully done tweaking and being forced to tweak the squad, but if anybody else does come in, it’s not crazy to think the squad – including Tayou, Morgan and Elizondo, empathetic and looking to pay it forward – would help the newbies find their place. No matter who you are or when you joined, this team will help you get settled in no time.