SAFC must make a U-turn on the road

With zero points away from home, San Antonio FC must kick it into gear starting this weekend at RGVFC.

San Antonio FC are having yet another shaky start to a USL Championship season. Twelve points isn’t their worst tally through eleven matches, but it’s reminiscent of the way SAFC started their disappointing 2018 campaign.

To be fair, the Western Conference has been quite competitive a third of the way through 2019, with just six points separating third and 16th places. It’s a tale of fine margins as just a few goals and points could see SAFC much closer to the top of the table and feeling better about the season so far.

“I felt like we were playing well, even the games we’ve lost,” midfielder Jack Barmby said a few weeks ago. “I think we’ve been very unlucky sometimes, but we can’t keep saying that, we need to win games.”

Barmby’s right: promising performances are alright early in the season but eventually, teams need results to back them up. While SAFC has found a mix of results at home, they have yet to get even a single point away, losing all four of their road matches so far by a combined score of 8-2.

SAFC are one of eight teams throughout the league, from both conferences, who have yet to win an away match, and only Tacoma Defiance shares the infamous distinction of not getting a single point, having lost all six of their contests away.

Granted, SAFC’s first four away matches have been anything but simple when you look closer. They’ve played two matches at altitude, dealt with a sellout crowd for one team’s inaugural home match, and took on a high-flying expansion team in front of a crowd almost twice the size of the maximum at SAFC’s own Toyota Field.

“We’ve played in some tough places on the road,” said midfielder and current captain Michael Lahoud recently. “The thing that I think we need to challenge ourselves on is can we learn from these past experiences.”

Just as there are potentially plausible excuses for SAFC’s away struggles so far, there are also lessons to learn. Their first two away losses, 1-0 in both Colorado Springs and Austin, were decided late as an opponent caught SAFC sleeping and finished with aplomb. Against Real Monarchs SLC, SAFC conceded two penalty kicks early in the second half which erased a 2-0 lead and completely changed the flow of the match.

“The first thing the coaches told us when we came in was ‘Don’t make excuses, find solutions,’” defender Josh Yaro said when reflecting on the match against Real. He said it was a game of two halves and having two penalty kicks awarded against them, regardless of how warranted the fouls were, was beyond their control.

Since then, SAFC have added a 3-0 loss to New Mexico in front of over 15,000 fans – the largest crowd to ever watch an SAFC match – to their list of disappointing road results. That wasn’t even a promising performance either, with some fans feeling the team gave up in the latter stages of the match.

Powell and the players admit SAFC can’t make excuses and at this point, there aren’t really excuses to be made or room for them anymore. Five of SAFC’s next six matches in all competitions take place away from home, so continuing to come home empty-handed would see SAFC fall farther off the pace in the league and go out of the US Open Cup.

“We have to do away with all the negative thoughts that we had about away games,” defender Kai Greene said. “If we want any chance of winning a championship or making the playoffs, (we) have to win away, period.”

As for how SAFC intends to turn things around, Greene said they’re going to try replicating their mentality and preparation for home matches on the road, which is easier said than done. Head Coach Darren Powell said the team could be more proactive rather than sitting back and letting the hosts dictate the flow of matches, as they have on multiple occasions.

“We have to be consistent and no matter who’s on the schedule and no matter (where we play), it doesn’t matter, we show up and we bring the game to whatever opponent we have,” Lahoud said.

SAFC’s next destination to try bringing points home from is Rio Grande Valley FC’s H-E-B Park, a stadium they’ve always come away from with a result. If they’re ready to turn over a new leaf and bring home points using the methods they have in mind, then Saturday’s short trip south is the time to prove it.

All images: Darren Abate, USL Championship