Image: Jesus Miguel Garcia, Pitch Black News
Another tough match awaits San Antonio FC on Wednesday night as they face fellow United Soccer League side Tulsa Roughnecks FC in the third round of the US Open Cup.
The reward if they win isn’t the usual three points like in league play, though SAFC got plenty of those from Tulsa last year. The major prize at stake is a matchup with FC Dallas in the fourth round of the competition. Not only is FC Dallas playing in MLS, the highest level of North American soccer, they’re also the reigning Open Cup champion. For SAFC, there’s an added incentive: the chance to host an MLS team for the first time in club history.
First though is the matter of Wednesday’s clash. Although it’s officially the first time the two teams have met in 2017, they did play a preseason friendly on March 11 which ended 1-1. Midfielders scored the goals for both clubs, first Billy Forbes’ deflected effort for SAFC, then Juan Pablo Caffa off a free kick for Tulsa.
Since then, both teams have been off to good starts in the USL roughly one third of the way through the season. SAFC remains undefeated and at the top of the USL Western Conference after 11 matches while Tulsa has won and lost five apiece, good enough for third place so far. Players and squads have also settled through the first few months.
“We’ve just grown more mature as a whole,” SAFC midfielder Kris Tyrpak said. “Some of the younger guys are stepping up and acting as mature guys on and off the field.”
A good number of those younger players got SAFC through the second round of the Open Cup on May 17 against Houston Dutch Lions FC when SAFC Head Coach Darren Powell rotated his squad and rested regulars. Whether he does that against higher-caliber opposition such as Tulsa, and to what degree, is yet to be seen.
Besides the potential glory of advancing in the Open Cup, earning more games means more chances for players to get minutes on the field. Midfielder Devin Vega, for example, may have seemed a good candidate to start against Dutch Lions FC but instead got the nod three days later against Phoenix Rising FC in regular season USL play.
“We’ve got some games over a short space of time, so we need to make sure we use our depth,” Powell said. “We’ve been very fortunate to get players some very valuable minutes and they’ve come on and stepped forward and done a good job.”
While both Tyrpak and Powell said the team must focus on Tulsa first, they’re open to imagining what might await them in the next round. Powell said the prospect of hosting Dallas doesn’t add any pressure, while Tyrpak seemed excited at the potential matchup between what have been two of the hottest teams in North American soccer in 2017.
“Bringing down a couple MLS teams would be great.”
Whether Tyrpak means simply hosting MLS teams or defeating them is open to interpretation.