Facing a must win match to secure passage to the United Soccer League (USL) playoffs, San Antonio FC headed south to Edinburg to take on Rio Grande Valley FC Toros (RGV FC) on Saturday night but couldn't get the job done, falling 3-0. Three late goals gave the Toros the victory and brought San Antonio FC's season to an end in disappointing fashion.
San Antonio FC hearts were broken in the 77th minute after Rio Grande Valley delivered some strong play in the box. RGV FC midfielder Memo Rodriguez spotted a wide open forward Eric Bird and cut the ball back to him, leaving Bird with a simple finish. He took a touch and then hit the ball in off the far post to make San Antonio chase two goals in the final 13 minutes.
The result was sealed in the 83rd minute when Rio Grande Valley's Charlie Ward sent in a strong cross for his forward Ruben Luna. Despite some attention Luna got a strong header away, bouncing it off the pitch and past San Antonio goalkeeper Matt Cardone to make it 2-0.
Poor defending saw Rio Grande Valley wrap up the win as Rodriguez got the ball and set up for Yair Arboleda who secured a simple finish for the third goal.
It wasn't just San Antonio seeking a result – the Toros also needed a win to stay in the fight to win the Western Conference regular season title. With such high stakes on the line, the fourth South Texas Derby was set up as an enthralling contest.
Needing a win to be assured a place in the playoffs, San Antonio had all the attacking play in the opening stages of the match. Despite majority possession, the team could not find the early goal it so desperately craved.
There were nervous moments for San Antonio FC in the 21st minute when Rio Grande Valley FC forward Charlie Ward got space away to hit a powerful shot. His effort went well over the bar, allowing San Antonio fans to breathe easier.
That wayward shooting continued for RGV FC, but the hosts' various chances were still worrisome for San Antonio FC. As Rio Grande Valley gained control in the middle of the half, San Antonio's chances started to slip further away.
San Antonio FC was able to wrestle back control around the half hour mark and in the 38th minute went agonizingly close to opening the scoring. A through-ball was played for San Antonio forward Taylor Morgan whose shot was carried high and wide, when a low shot would have gotten the goal. The missed opportunity kept the match scoreless at the break after a relatively even and tense 45 minutes of soccer.
Rio Grande Valley's main strategy in the early stages of the second half was to get a simple, long ball to forward Dzenan Catic. Despite the ease with which that style could have been defended, Catic was still proved to be a threat as he took valuable possession away from San Antonio.
Catic was close to scoring in the 55th minute when he was played clean through on goal. He couldn't quite get on the end of the ball and was denied by an offside flag that let San Antonio off the hook.
San Antonio FC forward Cesar Elizondo was denied by the offside flag moments later when he was played through by midfielder Shawn Chin. Elizondo rounded the Toros goalkeeper but the referee raised the flag, making Elizondo's work all for naught.
Chin could well have had the opener in the 58th minute after he got a perfect ball over the top. He got a powerful shot away after breaking clean through, but the wind caught his shot and sent it just wide of goal.
Catic continued to get dangerous and in the 59th minute nearly opened scoring as Toros midfielder Kyle Murphy sent the ball across the face at close range. Catic got a golden look at goal but his shot went well over the bar.
The Rio Grande Valley defense scrambled to cover a strong run from Elizondo, and did just enough to force him wide. Elizondo crossed for midfielder Rafael Castillo who sent his volleyed shot just wide of goal.
Stunning work from Rio Grande Valley striker Ruben Luna nearly gave the Toros the lead in the 67th minute. Luna, who has a history of scoring against San Antonio teams, received a through-ball and ran at goal, cut inside, and unleashed a curling strike, which easily beat Matt Cardone in the San Antonio goal but still went wide.
The results of other Western Conference matches denied San Antonio FC access to its first-ever playoffs – a disappointing outcome, but fuel for next season's fire.
Top image: For San Antonio FC's goalkeeper Matt Cardone and his teammates, the playoffs slipped away Saturday night against Rio Grande Valley FC Toros. Photo by Darren Abate for USL.