What has long been portrayed as a match up of the first and second place teams in the USL Western Conference lost a bit of luster on Wednesday as the Swope Park Rangers ended a three match swing through Cascadia with a victory over Seattle Sounders 2. The Rangers, winners of seven straight matches, now have 38 points through 18 games and sit 2 points ahead of San Antonio with 36 points through 17 games.
Head Coach Darren Powell was hired to lead San Antonio’s new USL team last season after two years as director of Orlando’s Pro Academy and has always emphasized success through defense and solid play in the back. San Antonio leads USL with 10 clean sheets in 2017 while conceding only 8 goals in 17 matches. By comparison, the next two lowest teams, Swope Park Rangers and Louisville City FC, have conceded 15 goals apiece while the Monarchs have conceded 17 goals.
On the offensive side, San Antonio has scored 26 goals, which is good for 8th in the league, but struggles to find the net on a consistent basis. Their passing accuracy sits at 75% which leaves them in the bottom third of the league and their 157 shots is only good for 26th in the league. however, their excellent conversion rate of 20% has be enough to keep them in nearly all of their matches with only a single loss but six ties.
Billy Forbes, who spent last season with Sebastian Velasquez at Rayo OKC, leads San Antonio with 7 goals, but only one, against OKC Energy last weekend, has been scored since April. Cesar Elizondo with 4 goals and Akwafei Ajeakwa, Rafael Castillo and Kris Tyrpak, who each have three, have done most of the heavy lifting recently.
Diego Restrepo, who took over for an injured Matt Cardone earlier this year, has seized the opportunity and leads the league with 7 clean sheets and was recently voted the USL Mid-Season Goalkeeper of the Year. Sebastien Uchechukwu, another Rayo OKC veteran and holdover Stephan McCarthy have combined for 184 clearances in the center of the back four while Greg Cochrane and Ben Newnam have another 74 on the left and right.
The Monarchs in comparison have less than 100 clearances from their group of center backs and another 48 from Kyle Curinga and Max Lachowecki. Instead, USL Mid-Season Coach of the Year Mark Briggs will need his Monarchs to find a way to score and will rely upon USL MId-Season MVP Chandler Hoffman to open things up for a squad that is second in goals scored with 40. Having Charlie Adams and Sebastian Velasquez return from injury after the long break may also provide the spark necessary to ignite an offense that has scored two or more goals in 13 of their 17 matches and been held scoreless in only their loss to Tulsa on the road.
The Monarchs finished 2-0 victors in the previous meeting on 14 Sep 2016 at Rio Tinto. This match was the first home appearance of the recently signed Charlies Adams who went a full 90’ and responded with his first goal for the Monarchs in the 73’. The only other Monarchs from that match still with the team is Max Lachowecki, as Ricardo Velazco has moved up to join Danilo Acosta and Lalo Fernandez with contract at parent RSL.
San Antonio FC retains 6 of the players from that match although only Greg Cochrane, and Rafael Castillo have made major contributions to the 2017 side.,
What to watch for
Soccer in Texas in July and August is almost guaranteed to be hot and humid. Tomorrow will be no exception and be very reminiscent of RSLs many memorable matches in Texas where they continue to struggle. The temperature at kickoff is predicted to be 98 degrees with 35% humidity increasing to around 50% by the end of the game as the evening settles in and the chance of thunderstorms increases.
It will be up to the Monarchs to push hard and consistently early in the match and find a way to score on a very sound San Antonio defense. If the Monarchs cannot find one of more first half goals, look for a very low scoring game with San Antonio grinding out another draw or perhaps a narrow victory.
Real Monarchs: (4-2-3-1) Sparrow; Curinga, Moberg, Peay, Lachowecki; Besler, Hanlin; Minter, Hernandez, Brody; Hoffman
San Antonio FC: (4-2-3-1): Restrepo; Hendrick, Ibeagha, McCarthy, Cochrane; NReed, Castillo; Tyrpak, Vega, Forbes; Ajeakwa
When: Saturday, July 22, 6:30 pm MDT
Where: Toyota Field — San Antonio, TX
Weather: 98 degrees, Sunny