New era brings higher standards for SAFC

Under a new head coach, San Antonio FC is setting their sights higher than before and will have little room for complacency in 2020.

Through four seasons, San Antonio FC has a history of falling just short of reasonable objectives.

Most notably, they’ve been on the cusp of the playoffs three times heading into the final match of the season – and even had it in their own hands in 2019 – only to fall just short each time. With everything the club has going for it, that just doesn’t seem good enough.

It’s not shocking then that SAFC ushered in a new era this offseason as they promoted Alen Marcina, who had been part of the club’s coaching staff since mid-2018, to head coach. From the start, Marcina and his coaching staff appear to have upped the standards, constantly pushing the team to be better.

“I don’t think there’s been a single day that Alen’s been completely satisfied, and I think that’s a good thing,” midfielder Hayden Partain said on SAFC’s Behind the Stripes podcast a week into the preseason. “After the first day, I remember I was gassed, I was ready to get home, take a nap, relax and recover and Alen said that training was a 3 out of 10. If you’re going to win things, you have to be that ruthless.”

Other players agreed with Partain that the standards were high from the moment SAFC’s preseason kicked off, and SAFC themselves confirmed it. In the second episode of Inside San Antonio FC, a behind-the-scenes series the club is making, Marcina can be heard shouting “No excuses here – I don’t care (that) it’s day one, good habits start today.”

Partain said the players may not have been meeting all the lofty goals Marcina and the coaching staff were setting for them, but that they were coming together to get closer. With plenty of fresh faces in the team this season, that collective struggle to meet the high expectations of the coaching staff could be helpful in building team chemistry.

Also, Partain mentioned that once they meet the standards set in front of them, he expected Marcina to raise the bar yet again, and he welcomes the ongoing challenge.

“Every day that we’ve trained, I’ve never been comfortable and that’s the only way you get better,” Partain said. “When you think you met your standard, you sit back and relax, but that’s not how we’re going to do things here.”

In addition to pushing his team, Marcina said he also looked for players who would set high standards for and push themselves. Defender Blake Smith said on successful teams he’s been with in the past, the players actively pushed not only themselves individually but each other as well – and if a player wasn’t on board with that, then they shouldn’t be here.

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Like Partain, forward Jose Gallegos has felt the struggle that comes with these high standards, but he also understands it’s a means to an end.

“(Those high standards) are what you need to have when you want to achieve big things,” Gallegos said. “It definitely frustrates you sometimes, but it’s about just pushing through and remembering what the big goal is and what you want to achieve.”

That big goal Gallegos talked about is quite interesting this season. In past years, SAFC coaches and players alike said making the playoffs was a major goal, then they would use that as a springboard for winning the whole thing. This year, Marcina and players have already mentioned the championship as their ultimate goal, skipping the intermediate steps.

Interestingly, in that one area, SAFC is not setting smaller goals and gradually raising the bar, rather they’re going for the whole enchilada. Starting this new era, SAFC appears more ambitious than ever before.

“In order to be a great team, you have to continue to raise the bar and you can never get complacent or comfortable,” Smith said. “I think we realize the special team we have at this point, being good is not good enough.”