All Images: Darren Abate, USL

“You always leave yourself vulnerable at 1-0 – it can go either way at any moment.”

Those were the words of San Antonio FC Head Coach Darren Powell on the night of July 14 after his team drew 1-1 with Oklahoma City Energy FC. SAFC midfielder Billy Forbes looked to have bagged the game’s only goal in the 52nd minute off a quick counter, but OKC didn’t give up without a fight and managed to scrape a draw in the dying minutes of the match through midfielder Miguel Gonzalez.

Oddly enough, something similar happened July 22 when SAFC hosted top-of-the-table Real Monarchs SLC. SAFC had gained the lead twice in the match, only for Real to draw level each time, including in the 86th minute. Powell’s words about leaving yourself vulnerable can be applied more broadly to any one-goal lead.

“It’s definitely frustrating – nobody wants to give up a goal in the last 10 minutes of a game and to happen twice in two weeks, it’s rough on us,” midfielder Kris Tyrpak said after the match against Real.

Even though Real was quality opposition and that was one of those matches where “a point earned” is more permissible, it still hurt those in SAFC’s corner to see them yet again lose their lead when they had all three points within their grasp.

On July 29, SAFC managed to get a win and clean sheet for the first time in over a month – and away to none other than star-studded Phoenix Rising FC, who put up quite a fight to the end. Perhaps the late equalizer curse only lasted two matches.

It turns out the match in Phoenix was the exception though. On Saturday, SAFC again let a lead slip in the waning moments of the match.

Like OKC’s equalizer three weeks prior, SAFC conceded the tying goal to Orange County SC in second-half stoppage time. For the third time in four matches, they’d had two points snatched away right at the end.

“We are winning those games all the way up until the 85th minute, it’s just we switch off for five seconds,” Tyrpak said after Saturday’s draw. “Anything happens if you don’t stay focused the full 90.”

Looking deeper at the three equalizers though, it’s more nuanced than just SAFC slacking off at the end. Powell and the players are being honest when they say they’re putting in good performances overall. Tyrpak is right about them switching off momentarily, but there’s sometimes bad luck, an opponent just executing their attack to perfection or poor officiating which thwarts them.

OKC was probably the most deserving of the three teams to find an equalizer against SAFC, going toe-to-toe and producing about as many chances. Coady Andrews smashed a penalty kick off the crossbar and SAFC ultimately cleared it late in the match.

Minutes later, a goalmouth scramble saw SAFC initially repel OKC but ultimately succumb on the follow-up. Defender Cyprian Hedrick tried to clear the ball over the goal for a corner but it bounced off the crossbar and fell to Gonzalez, who struck his scissor kick well to level. Because of their late push and equal share of play though, it’s hard to argue with OKC equalizing.

In the highly-anticipated matchup with Real, SAFC succumbed to a late equalizer partially due to losing focus, but also just a well-executed play from their powerful opponents. Midfielder Chase Minter was given space on the right flank in the 86th minute and swung in a well-measured cross. Hedrick was again in the thick of the action, seeming to misjudge the flight of the ball and allowing defender Max Lachowecki to head the ball beyond Restrepo’s outstretched hand.

The loss to Orange County was a curious one. Tyrpak scored his fifth goal of the season – and SAFC’s fastest ever – off a header in the second minute. For virtually the entire match, it looked like that goal would be the winner as SAFC pushed for another but couldn’t get it and Orange County struggled to find chances to equalize.

The match swung in second-half stoppage time though as SAFC’s Michael Reed bumped Orange County’s Gustavo Villalobos when coming down from challenging for a header. The contact looked to be minimal, but Villalobos went down and the referee awarded a penalty, which midfielder Jerry van Ewijk dispatched. Due to the dubious nature of the call, the most recent equalizing goal is the one SAFC should feel most cheated by.

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Throughout the rough run of late equalizers is a common theme acknowledged by Powell, Tyrpak and others: missed chances.

While the chances were shared pretty evenly in the match against OKC, SAFC outshot Real 15-5 and had three times as many shots on target as well, 6-2. The match against Orange County was more open with SAFC firing off 18 shots to their opponent’s 10, and winning the on-target battle 4-2.

That’s a good number of chances SAFC is creating and shots they’re finding, and one of Powell’s ways of mitigating the draws is praising the team for their chances created. There’s a saying that you miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take, but you still miss a good portion of the shots you don’t take well.

To be fair, SAFC is often coming close, such as rattling the frame of the goal multiple times in Saturday’s draw, but those kinds of shots ultimately count for just as much as a shot blasted out of the stadium.

When asked what SAFC is doing differently in their preparation and practice to hopefully prevent another late equalizer, Powell simply gestures at the field, citing hard work on a daily basis in training as well as recreating, to the best of their abilities, the tough situations which present themselves during a match.

If that’s what the team has been doing so far to try and combat the problem though, it doesn’t seem to be working. These draws could be avoided if SAFC could hold firmer defensively, but they’re getting chances to kill matches off and not taking them well.

Forward Akwafie Ajeakwa provided three points to how SAFC will look to stay on the right side of results from here on out.

“You can expect an increase in pressure, an increase in quality, an increase in passion.”

The pressure is there, SAFC getting a number of chances and occasionally getting one to ripple the back of the net. The passion is generally there as SAFC shows heart and determination to score and retain leads, even when one thing or another puts them back on level terms with their opponent.

The quality…that’s what needs to reappear. Otherwise, SAFC will be brought down by more of these late equalizers. Even when you earn a point, it’s disheartening to concede late and lose out on two more points in one match after another as SAFC started doing against OKC on July 14 – just ask Powell.

“It hurts; it feels like a loss right now because (the equalizer) was in injury time.”

Posted by J. Check

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