A heartbreaking stoppage-time penalty cost San Antonio FC dearly when Swope Park Rangers secured a 2-1 win at Swope Soccer Village Wednesday night. The loss pushed San Antonio FC back out of the playoff places and into ninth place.
It was the worst possible start for San Antonio FC as Swope Park Rangers opened the scoring after just three minutes. Swope Park forward Mark-Anthony Gonzalez drew the San Antonio defense toward him, allowing midfielder Ayrton Pinheiro to break the offside trap, draw San Antonio goalkeeper Matt Cardone out, and easily send the ball past Cardone for the opener.
It took a mere five minutes for San Antonio to find an equalizer: San Antonio midfielder Carlos Alvarez swung in a corner to the middle of the box to find an unmarked teammate in defender Fejiro Okiomah who maneuvered a free header past the Swope Park keeper to level the score.
In stoppage time a mix-up at the back forced Cardone to come off the line, allowing Swope Park’s Dane Kelly to get around him before being pulled back by the San Antonio defense. Despite the ball ending up in the back of the net, the referee allotted a penalty to Swope Park, which Ayrton took and nailed, stealing all three points in the process.
A disappointing start didn’t deter USL Player of the Week Cardone from getting back in to his usual stride in the 14th minute when he was able to make a strong save against a bounced shot from Gonzalez, who continued to be a menace to the San Antonio defense through strong runs on the right. In the 22nd minute the Swope Park forward should have put his side back in front when he got through one-on-one with Cardone but sent his shot across the face.
Things calmed down after the frantic start to the match as both sides’ defenses corrected early mistakes. Some great San Antonio defending kept it 1-1 in the 34th minute when defender Biko Bradnock-Brennan made an impressive slide to block another shot from Gonzalez.
The first half played out in phases where the two teams traded dominant passages. San Antonio set its tactic to slowing the match down after realizing how much Gonzalez was thriving on the quick pace set early on. The tactic worked and the match stayed level at half-time.
The second half had a more sedate start than the first, but it was again Swope Park who started off stronger. If not for a much better usage of the offside trap from San Antonio, the hosts could have had more shots on target, but some smart pushing up from the defenders saw Swope Park forwards flagged offside repeatedly.
San Antonio operated well on the counter attack and in the 56th minute a strong run from forward Taylor Morgan nearly resulted in a goal. Swope Park midfielder Ualefi kept San Antonio out and gave the visitors a corner, which found San Antonio defender Sam McBride who managed a low header, but sent it right at the Swope Park keeper.
In an effort to secure the win and solidify its playoff chances, San Antonio FC brought forwards Franck Tayou and Jason Johnson in for the last half hour
The best chances in the second pass were results of bad defensive mistakes that both teams failed to capitalize on. Poor back-passes on both sides in the 65th minute could very well have ended in goals, but both goalkeepers did just enough to clear the ball away.
San Antonio got a break in the 70th minute when Carlos Alvarez pulled back his man very close to the box. The referee correctly ruled that the tug had happened just outside the box and San Antonio’s defense was able to clear the ball to safety.
A notable page in San Antonio’s playbook in terms of substitutions was bringing back players who had been out with injuries. Forward Shawn Chin, who had broken his leg during a match against Houston in June, made his comeback against Swope Park, as did Jacques Francois.
In the very last minute of regular time San Antonio FC could have stolen all three points when Francois passed the ball to Tayou, who had ample space to turn and shoot but was denied by Swope Park’s keeper.
Ayrton’s solid penalty kick in the 93rd minutes sealed the score at 2-1, sending San Antonio FC back home with justifiable concern over its playoff chances.
San Antonio FC will host Arizona United SC at Toyota Field Sunday, Sept. 4. The third encounter between the two teams will mark a fierce battle as both aim to earn their spot in the Western Conference playoffs.
Top image: Swope Park Rangers’ Ayrton is on the ball in Wednesday’s match against San Antonio FC. Photo courtesy of Swope Park Rangers/USL.