El Paso Locomotive FC plays San Antonio FC during the first half of a USL Championship soccer match, Wednesday, June 26, 2019, at Toyota Field in San Antonio, Texas. (Darren Abate/USL)

Stakes as high as the fireworks tonight for SAFC

San Antonio FC will host their second Copa Tejas match in a row, and it could say quite a lot about where their season goes from here.

After meeting for the first time just over three months ago, SAFC takes on Austin Bold FC for the third time in all competitions on Wednesday in a match which has wide-ranging implications for SAFC.

First, despite a new era with new teams, Austin remains dominant over San Antonio when it comes to professional soccer. Bold FC have already defeated SAFC 1-0 in USL Championship play and 4-2 in the US Open Cup, and Wednesday gives them a chance to complete a season sweep, firmly asserting their dominance of central Texas.

As you may expect the day before July 4, Wednesday’s match will have no shortage of festivities besides the 90 minutes on the pitch. Dollar-drink night is no surprise for a midweek match, but there will also be fireworks and the “Extra Time” postgame party afterward, so they’ll want to give the fans an all-around good night especially to entice people to come back.

Broadening the scope a bit, Wednesday’s match is also the second of three straight for SAFC in Copa Tejas. They got their first point in the fan-made competition between Texas teams on June 26 in a scoreless draw at home against El Paso Locomotive FC.

Head Coach Darren Powell said SAFC is definitely taking these matches seriously when it comes to intrastate bragging rights, and they especially want to capitalize at Toyota Field, sending fans home with a smile. Well, while getting their first point against El Paso is a small positive, fans’ more likely reaction was probably rolling their eyes since SAFC failed to capitalize on their chances and take all three points at home yet again.

“We want to be the best team in Texas, I think that’s the first mark, and then once we’re there we want to go bigger but obviously we’ve got to beat the teams in Texas first,” SAFC midfielder Ethan Bryant said before the match against El Paso.

Credit: Darren Abate

While an independent USL Championship team backed by Spurs Sports & Entertainment in their fourth season sounds like it would have the edge over two expansion teams and an MLS2 team in this competition, SAFC is currently bottom of the Copa Tejas standings. They’re still looking for their first win – and they basically need it to have any chance of making a comeback in the competition.

A loss on Wednesday would see SAFC nine points behind Austin and therefore eliminated from contention as they couldn’t make that up in their remaining two matches in the mini-league. A draw wouldn’t officially eliminate them but they’d need every other result in the competition to go a certain way just to be tied with Austin and RGVFC on eight points – at which point goal difference would come into play, so SAFC would have to make up ground there as well.

Copa Tejas standings following SAFC and El Paso’s scoreless draw on June 26.

And of course, Wednesday is also a USL Championship match which counts the same as any other, regardless of the opponent. Like in 2018, SAFC struggled to find a sustainable rhythm in the first half of the season and Wednesday’s match officially ushers in the second half.

Perhaps luckily for SAFC, Wednesday’s match may still be considered an addendum to the first half of the season rather than the start to the second since they won’t play again in the league for two weeks. However they see it, the note SAFC ends Wednesday night on will resonate for the next two weeks, so they’ll want to make it count.

In the grand scheme of things, it’s debatable whether playing Austin or another Texas opponent really raises the stakes anyway simply because these matches matter more and more as the season goes on and the number of remaining matches dwindles.

“At this point in time, this team doesn’t need any extra motivation, they know what’s at stake,” Powell said before heading into this Copa Tejas gauntlet. “Everybody here is fully aware that we want to be in a better position than we currently are and the only way to turn that around is by getting results.”

Bryant echoed Powell’s admission they’re not where they want to be and also stressed the importance of capitalizing on home matches in general. As much eye-rolling as there has been regarding SAFC’s away form, they haven’t made home-field advantage count and taken all the points they probably should have either, so a positive performance and result Wednesday could help change that side of the equation.

If SAFC stumble on Wednesday, they’ll simply move on and hope to turn things around in the league, moving up the table and sneaking into a playoff place. They won’t want to turn their backs on the Central Texas Derby and Copa Tejas so soon though, lest the entire SAFC community feel more disappointed. They’ll want to stay competitive on all fronts and Wednesday’s match will do a lot for showing where they stand in those endeavors.

Credit: Darren Abate

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