The air was thick with humidity. The stands were less than full. San Antonio made their way into PNC Stadium ready to take on the next MLS foe.
Their last MLS match-up resulted in a 2-1 win over Austin FC in the prior round. While it was quite the celebration, San Antonio would now be going into the next game with a target on their back.
SAFC started with their usual lineup, while Houston started and ended with almost entirely their B team. The two exceptions for Houston were their two key strikers Sebastian Ferreira and Fafa Picault.
In the first half, both teams struggled to gain rhythm. San Antonio struggled to build out of the back and generate creativity in the attacking third. A few mis-touches in integral places on the field kept San Antonio from executing solid opportunities. There were very few quality scoring opportunities for either team and stagnation in the attack for both sides. It was apparent Houston’s B roster struggled a bit chemistry-wise to start things off.
The second half was an entirely different story. Coach Nagamura must have had some choice words at halftime. Houston set the tone of the second half by increasing the speed of play which, in turn, increased the shots on goal. San Antonio did an incredible job of matching said tone. Both teams turned on their tenacity switch, making it the game we were all there to see.
Houston eventually picked up on how to split the midfield and create opportunities for their wingers which resulted in significantly more chances for them.
Both Just Dhillon and Collier had some incredible chances, with one shot just barely outside the woodwork. The final 20 minutes of the game is where Houston began to dominate. Houston stayed in the attacking third for a solid chunk of time and was relentless in the attack. Eventually, one of their many crosses connected with the head of Sebastian Ferreira and snuck by San Antonio’s Jordan Farr into the lower corner of the goal.
At that point, San Antonio lost a bit of wind in their sails which is typical for a late goal. However, they did an excellent job of continuing to stave off Houston’s advances.
Most people can agree how impressive it is for a USL team like San Antonio FC to have not only made it through to the round of 32 by beating a rival MLS team for the upset of the year, but also how they only lost by one point to another big MLS team. They had a stronger strength of schedule than other USL teams and handled this challenge with poise.
If promotion and relegation existed in the United States, San Antonio would be a very eligible team for promotion. Since that is not the case, this newfound exposure may result in some great new opportunities for San Antonio’s top talent to play at higher levels in different markets. While this could be fantastic for the players, what does that mean for the soccer market in San Antonio? How will San Antonio make their MLS dreams come true?
The only USL teams which made it past this round of 32 were those who played other USL teams. While it seems a little unfair, games are set by the teams nearest to them in their region. Detroit City tied Louisville City after going to penalties. Union Omaha beat Hail Storm 2-0 and the Sacramento Republic FC beat Phoenix Rising FC 2-0.
As for me, I will always be rooting for the underdog. Let’s see what happens in the next round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup and if the remaining USL teams can prevail.