By CHARLIE CORR – firstname.lastname@example.org
Monday, March 21, 2016
When Spurs Sports & Entertainment was awarded a USL franchise earlier this year, the San Antonio community and the league knew with immediacy the high standards that would be in place. The ownership group has been a gold standard in NBA circles and now has its sights on doing the same on the pitch. Darren Powell’s first-year side contains some familiar USL names as well as several who have recently called San Antonio their professional home. The Western Conference schedule will no doubt be a grind, but SAFC is primed to make an impact in its first season.
Head Coach: Darren Powell
Stadium: Toyota Field
2015 results: (2016 expansion club)
2015 postseason: (2016 expansion club)
Goalkeeper: Powell previously served as the Academy director at Orlando City SC, so during his time there, he had plenty of moments to see goalkeeper Josh Ford train on the pitch. Now, Ford will be Powell’s No. 1 in San Antonio. Ford earned two appearances with Orlando City last year and spent most of the year on loan to the Fort Lauderdale Strikers. Ford also had a brief stint with Orange County Blues FC in 2014 when he was with the Seattle Sounders FC organization. Alongside Ford is San Antonio native Matt Cardone, who played for the San Antonio Scorpions last year.
Defense: SAFC’s back line is seasoned and incredibly deep at face value. Left back Greg Cochrane brings his MLS experience from the LA Galaxy and Chicago Fire, as well as a one-game loan on his resume to Saint Louis FC last year. Right back Max Gunderson has worked his way up from the PDL days to play in the USL with OKC Energy FC in 2014 and the Austin Aztex last year. Center back Stephen McCarthy spent four seasons with MLS’s New England Revolution. Austin native Fejiro Okiomah brings several years of pro experience to center back, most recently playing for the Pittsburgh Riverhounds. Beyond this group, Honduran Milton Palacios spent last year with the San Antonio Scorpions and center back Sam McBride reunites with Powell, who was his coach at Elon University.
Midfield: San Antonio landed a creative attacking midfielder to base the team around in Carlos Alvarez, formerly of MLS’s Chivas USA and Colorado Rapids. Last year, the Rapids loaned Alvarez to the USL’s Charlotte Independence, where he posted two goals and four assists in 22 games. Alvarez’s pedigree is only the starting point in this group. Former FC Dallas Homegrown Danny Garcia also was added to the squad, having spent the 2015 USL season on loan to Arizona United SC, where he made 15 appearances. Sebastien Thuriere has been in the league since 2013, most recently with the Charleston Battery. Colombian Rafa Castillo stays on the same pitch he played for with the San Antonio Scorpions in 2014 and 2015. Also noteworthy are Michael Reed, who played 29 games last year for the Atlanta Silverbacks, and 2016 MLS Combine invitee and former Real Salt Lake AZ Academy player Miguel Salazar.
Forward: San Antonio’s strike force contains some good experience all around. Former New York Red Bulls forward Manolo Sanchez spent most of 2015 on loan to NYRB II, where he scored four goals in 22 regular-season games and then added a tally during the Red Bulls II’s 4-2 win against the Pittsburgh Riverhounds in the 2015 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. Jamaican Jason Johnson formerly played for MLS’s Houston Dynamo and Chicago Fire, and was loaned to the Riverhounds in 2014. Shawn Chin, who has spent the past two years with the Fort Lauderdale Strikers, also brings good professional experience to the club’s attack.
Strengths: In terms of balance, it appears that the defense has the specialized needs at SAFC’s outside back and center back slots, along with a slew of experience at the USL level or higher. Powell’s familiarity and working relationship with Ford also will be crucial in these early games. Saying this, the offensive third and midfield truthfully touts some similar depth and resumes, but for a new franchise, the defensive efforts will set the tone for San Antonio.
Weaknesses: On paper, SAFC looks like it did its homework and sought out experience to coincide with a few up-and-coming players – a good mix for an expansion franchise. If there is a weak point, it quite simply is needing some time to mesh with one another. The plus side for San Antonio – and fellow West expansion sides Swope Park Rangers and Rio Grande Valley FC – is that a number of other conference teams have undergone some significant turnover.
Key number: 4 – During his collegiate days at Elon University, Darren Powell was a four-time Southern Conference Coach of the Year.
Noteworthy matchups: San Antonio hosts fellow expansion club Rio Grande Valley FC on May 7 to kick off what could potentially be a strong Texas derby. They meet three times during the regular season.
Coach’s view: “It’s very important that we put a good product on the field, one that the coaches and the Spurs organization and the fans can be particularly proud of.” – Darren Powell
Current roster (updated: March 21, 2016):
Goalkeepers: Matt Cardone, Josh Ford
Defenders: Greg Cochrane, Austin Dunker, Max Gunderson, Sam McBride, Stephen McCarthy, Fejiro Okiomah, Milton Palacios
Midfielders: Carlos Alvarez, Victor Araujo, Rafael Castillo, Danny Garcia, Michael Reed, Miguel Salazar, Sebastien Thuriere
Forwards: Shawn Chin, Jason Johnson, Manolo Sanchez