A draw against Arizona United at Toyota Field on Sunday afternoon put San Antonio FC back in the playoff rankings. The team barely slid into eighth position with a 1-1 score, so the pressure to secure wins as it heads in to the final stretch of the season is on.
Arizona United stunned San Antonio in the 9th minute when a good long ball was flicked at Arizona forward Tyler Blackwood, who played it to forward partner Long Tan. A wide-open Tan easily shot across the face to open the scoring.
San Antonio FC hit back three minutes shy of the halftime whistle when a one-two pass allowed defender Max Gunderson to cut the ball back to midfielder Carlos Alvarez who arrived in the box, shot the ball powerfully and low, beating the keeper and pulling San Antonio back in to the match.
San Antonio FC’s Taylor Morgan put the ball in the back of the net in the third minute, but the assistant referee called the goal back for offside.
With the lead after nine minutes, Arizona United was keen to sit back and hold on to that lead as both teams fiercely chased a win. In an effort to stifle its rival, San Antonio FC often put five or more players in its back-line when in possession – a tactic that proved successful.
Some stunning goalkeeping from Arizona’s keeper Carl Woszczynski kept San Antonio FC out in the 23rd minute. After two consecutive corners from San Antonio midfielder Rafael Castillo caused problems, Alvarez received the ball in space, and got a strong shot away, but Woszczynski saved at full stretch, holding the hosts out.
San Antonio FC maintained the lion’s share of possession throughout the first half, but couldn’t make it count as Arizona United was quick to answer and close down San Antonio when it had possession.
The heavens opened at half-time, unleashing a downpour that sent fans scurrying for cover and conditions into a difficult state for both sides. The goalkeepers in particular struggled as a swirling wind accompanied the rain and caused the ball to fly unpredictably.
An offside flag right as the downpour came to an end again denied San Antonio early in the second half. Arizona United had pressed forward perfectly, leaving San Antonio forward Franck Tayou offside and, thus, ended an opportunity that seemed destined to become a goal.
Tayou thought he had a shout for a penalty in the 59th minute after going down in the box, but the referee correctly waved away the appeals because Tayou had soared over his opponent who cleanly got the ball.
San Antonio goalkeeper Matt Cardone was back to his best in the 60th minute when he managed two strong saves. The first came to stop a quick counter attack before Cardone made a save on the resulting corner that San Antonio eventually cleared.
As the second half wore on San Antonio was looking more and more dangerous, but the Arizona United defense was proving too strong to break down. San Antonio would throw players forward for a winning goal, open up space for Arizona to potentially exploit, but always did just enough to get back each time.
In stoppage time returning San Antonio forward Shawn Chin went agonizingly close to pulling San Antonio FC in front. After a save from Arizona’s keeper, Chin ran on to the rebound and shot, but sent the ball well over the bar.
Having never won a league match coming from a deficit, San Antonio FC was up against its own history. While the players were unable to crush that goal, the point they did earn pushed them back in to a playoff place, but only by a slim margin.
Military appreciation night at Toyota Field was the third time San Antonio FC had met Arizona United in less than a month.
After taking home a win in its last encounter with Saint Louis FC, San Antonio hopes to repeat a victory against the Missourians on Saturday, Sept. 10 at Toyota Field. The road game against Real Monarchs SLC the following Wednesday will likely determine whether or not San Antonio’s playoff dreams become a reality.
Top image: Rafael Castillo reacts during San Antonio FC’s game against Arizona United on Sunday at Toyota Field. Photo by Darren Abate for USL.