Many people can agree that tonight’s game at Toyota Feild will be the sporting event of the year for San Antonio that even the average sports fan won’t want to miss. It’s a night of firsts for Alen Marcina’s team as they have an opportunity to win the USL Championship Cup. To top it off, they have the opportunity to do so on home turf in front of a packed house of 8,245 fans. This game was also the fastest to sell out in the program’s history.
While tonight’s game is full of opportunity, it will be the opposite of a walk in the park as San Antonio FC is up against a giant of an opponent. This isn’t the first rodeo for Louisville City, who has made eight appearances in the finals and walked away with four USL Championship Titles over the team’s existence.
Louisville City is dangerous on set pieces, having scored the most goals off of set pieces in the league. On the flip side, San Antonio FC is a physical team. In fact, San Antonio FC’s Defender of the Year Mitchell Taintor is third in the league with 13 yellow cards. How can San Antonio FC mitigate or reduce Louisville City’s opportunities for set pieces?
In Saturday’s press conference, Alen Marcina assured that “no stone would be left unturned,” despite the fact that neither team had played each other before.
Alen Marcina stated, “every opponent we have the utmost respect for… Our preparation has been consistent and I do think that is the key to success is being consistent. It has been no different for Louisville. Yes, we may not have played them in the regular season, but we have been relentless in our preparation. We’re aware they’re effective on set plays, and in both situations, we have prepared for that. We have a plan in place for that. The plan is to execute the tasks, and hopefully, we get a result.
Huge players to watch for on the Louisville City are Wilson Harris, who currently has 15 goals on the sheet and Amadou Dia who leads the team with 8 assists. Another big play maker is Sean Tostch who was named 1st Team All-USL. Tostch’s personal stats sheet includes 34 interceptions, a 68% success rate, and 9 goals (the most in the league for a defender).
One thing we know – Louisville City doesn’t lack firepower.
Mitch Taintor spoke on how he and his teammates manage their nerves prior to such a monumental match, saying, “going into a final, you look back and reflect on the year you’ve had, and you think about games and certain scenarios you’ve been in and how you’ve learned where you got beat, where you succeeded and the culmination of that throughout the whole year and it’s just another game. Having composure and confidence going into the game. We’ve prepared the same way every week.”
He continued, “it doesn’t feel any different, and that was a really big message from the leadership group to everyone else today and throughout the weeks in training and leading up to playoffs as well. Yeah, trophies are on the line, and these are one-and-done games. We’re incredibly grateful to be here, but we’ve treated every game like it’s a final this year. We need to think of it like every other game this year, and I think that’s when we thrive. If we think, ‘we can’t lose the final,’ then we’re going to lose the final. So it’s about keeping a steady head and business as usual every week.”
Louisville City’s star midfielder and Captain, Paolo DelPiccolo, mirrored Taintor’s sentiments regarding his own team. When asked about his role as captain leading into the game, he responded, “for me personally … that’s something that’s been going on all season. Trying to get the team ready for moments like this and build the culture of how we act on a weekly basis, and the process shouldn’t change from week one to the final week. So for me as a captain, to step up to a moment like this is to build the team and build guys’ characters, especially younger guys and teach them how to be pros and share some of my experience with them so when those opportunities come, they’re ready for it. So I don’t think there’s anything this week that needs to be done, but rather how a bunch of us older guys behave and act in the locker room throughout the whole year.”
Not only is San Antonio FC up against a huge opponent, but the odds of the #1 seed winning the Championship is another rarity. This is one of the statistics not in San Antonio’s favor.
In response to that statistic, Mitch responded, “So being the number one team is great but it doesn’t mean anything unless you win the cup at the end, so I don’t think we’re focusing on that at all. I know it is a stat and something that hasn’t been done in a while, but even if we were the seventh or eighth seed and we were in the final our mentality’s the same. We’re going to go in there and win, regardless of the seed we’re at.”
Louisville City’s head coach, Danny Cruz, had thoughts about San Antonio FC saying, “They’re an extremely well-coached team, they’re a disciplined team, they’re difficult to break down. Their press is very good. And they have a lot of quality in transition, so they have the amount of points that they have for a reason, and we have nothing but respect for them, but we’ve shown all year at home and on the road that we’re a difficult team as well. I’m confident in our group, I have been all season, and we know we’re up against a good opponent, a well-coached opponent, and like anybody in this league, we never take anybody lightly. Certainly not the team that finished with the most points of anybody in the league.”
There’s no doubt tonight’s game at Toyota Feild will be one for the books. Everyone understands the home-field advantage, and Taintor praises his fans, saying, “I think they do a really good job of reading the game. I think they’re all very intelligent. They’re emotionally invested in the game.” It’s fair to say that the fans and the roar of the stadium will absolutely play a role in the match.
Only time will tell with this match-up regarding who lifts the trophy at the end of the night. If you weren’t able to snag one of the sold-out tickets, the game can be watched on ESPN 2 or ESPN Deportes.
SA Sport Star Soccer Analyst