Image: San Antonio FC
San Antonio FC fell 4-3 on penalty kicks after a 1-1 draw in their first ever international friendly against Club Santos Laguna of Mexico on Saturday night at Toyota Field.
Although it was just a friendly, acting SAFC Head Coach Andy Thomson said the team’s preparation was the same as for any other match in order to keep the team’s rhythm. Indeed the match felt a lot like other SAFC matches – sitting back and defending well while looking to spring on the counter.
“This was a great opportunity against an opponent that we wouldn’t normally face,” Thomson said. “The players adapted really, really well to that.”
After being suspended for SAFC’s visit to Sacramento Republic FC in their last United Soccer League match, Diego Restrepo returned to the starting lineup for the match against Santos. He was first called into action in the 10th minute to tip a ball over after a chip forward found a Santos attacker in the 18-yard box, leading to a high volley.
Midfielder Billy Forbes gave SAFC the lead in the 18th minute after getting past a Santos defender and firing beyond goalkeeper Carlos Acevedo into the net. Only a minute earlier, Forbes had sent a volley just wide after a cross from the right flank found him.
Forbes and fans will hope the goalscorer finds some in the USL again, having scored six by the end of April but none in the following two months.
Restrepo came up with his first spectacular save of the night in first half stoppage time. A ball into the box found Santos midfielder Javier Cortez streaking, but his attempt at chipping lightly over a diving Restrepo was parried out for a corner. Off the set piece, Santos rattled the crossbar but couldn’t quite find an equalizer before the end of the first half.
Santos had a golden opportunity to level the match in the 57th minute as an attacker broke through the SAFC defense and was one-on-one with Restrepo. However, SAFC’s goalkeeper came up big yet again, deflecting the shot onto the frame of the goal.
After saving a rocket-like free kick hardly a minute earlier, Restrepo finally succumbed to the Santos pressure in the 68th minute off the resulting corner. Defender Oscar Manzanarez sent the ball goalwards following the corner and midfielder Emiliano Armentaros redirected it past Restrepo to equalize for the visitors.
Despite conceding, Restrepo continued to pull saves out of the top drawer, tipping a Santos free kick destined for the top left corner of the net onto the bar in the 82nd minute. An SAFC defender then headed the ball out for a corner, which this time yielded nothing for the visitors.
For all their attempts as the second half wore on, neither side found a match-winning goal, prompting a penalty kick shootout to determine the winner of a simple friendly – in that respect at least, it wasn’t quite the same as a typical SAFC match for once.
As they had on May 31 against Tulsa Roughnecks FC in the US Open Cup, SAFC forced the shootout to extra rounds but ultimately fell short, losing 4-3 after six kicks per side. SAFC players and staff alike though were content with the result and how it sets them up for the second half of the USL season.
“If you play compact like (we did) throughout every game in the USL, we’re going to be even tougher to beat,” said Restrepo, whose incredible performance earned him the title of SAFC Man of the Match. “We have a great team and we have to bring that intensity every game.”
Despite the loss, SAFC was able to end the night on a high note, thanks again to Forbes. The scorer of SAFC’s lone goal also scored himself a fiancee when he successfully proposed to Michelle Hogan, herself a player for San Antonio Athenians SC, in front of the whole stadium after the match.
SAFC returns to USL action on Friday against Oklahoma City Energy FC at Toyota Field. Friday’s match is the USL Game of the Week and will be broadcast on ESPNU and SiriusXM FC.
SAFC Starting XI (4-2-3-1): Diego Restrepo; Cyprian Hedrick, Sebastien Ibeagha, Stephen McCarthy, Greg Cochrane; Rafa Castillo(c) (Ryan Roushandel 73’), Maxi Rodriguez (Mark O’Ojong 46’); Akwafei Ajeakwa, Devin Vega, Billy Forbes; Aly Alberto Hassan (Victor Araujo 68’)
Substitutes not used: Johnston, Newnam, Reed. Tyrpak, Chin
SAFC Penalty Kicks: Forbes – saved, Roushandel – scored, Vega – scored, Araujo – saved, Cochrane – scored, Hedrick – saved
SAFC Discipline: Sebastien Ibeagha (yellow card, 44th minute), Rafa Castillo (yellow card, 60th minute), Stephen McCarthy (yellow card, 65th minute), Cyprian Hedrick (yellow card, 74th minute), Akwafei Ajeakwa (yellow card, 79th minute)