The 2018 San Antonio FC season ended with a 1-1 draw to RGV FC at Toyota Field with the club narrowly missing out on the USL Championship playoffs, despite earning the highest point total in league history for a club that didn’t make the postseason. Since the final whistle of that match on Oct. 13, SAFC Head Coach Darren Powell has been thinking about the 2019 season and how the club can continue to improve as an entire organization. On the dawn of the 2019 USL Championship opener on March 9, Powell is as eager as ever to get started.
For the first time in team history, the season will open at home with San Antonio FC hosting Phoenix Rising FC at Toyota Field. The club is making it the place to be on March 9. Fans will be treated to giveaways, a dollar drink night, a postgame party and a postgame fireworks show. Powell expresses his excitement to finally share opening night with the Alamo City crowd in year four of the club’s existence.
“It’s great to share opening day with our fans,” said Powell. “Typically, the last three years, we have started on the road, so we haven’t been able to share that experience with the fans. So now fans get to see the team first-hand and in person. They make Toyota Field a fantastic venue and probably the best venue in the league, so we are excited to share opening night with them, and they can see all the hard work put in by the players and coaches first hand on March 9.”
What Powell will share is an exciting team with both defensive and attacking talent that the technical staff carefully pieced together in the offseason. San Antonio knew the types of players they needed to acquire both on and off the field to fit the style of play, and Powell along with his staff have been working to implement this ideology over the last month and a half of preseason.
Since preseason started, the goal has been to have everyone buy in to the system and the culture. So far, Powell says it’s working.
“Preseason has been very positive this year,” he said. “From day one we started to lay the foundations of what we wanted to do, and the players have shown the capabilities of learning and the openness to learn. Now it’s a matter of implementing those ideas into the regular season. Off the field, the players have gelled well. We have done a lot of activities and you can see the players and the relationships starting to form. We have a good group of guys and a good atmosphere within the group.”
One thing that has been top of mind for Powell is the continued growth of the USL and its leagues, along with the growing landscape of American soccer. Even since SAFC joined the league in 2016, the English native says the strength of competition has only gone up and is at an all-time high entering the 2019 season. Its harder to win matches in the USL Championship, and the quality of talent on the field continues to rise.
“The quality of players is getting higher and higher,” Powell says. “Players that may have been playing in MLS previously in this stage of their career could now play in the USL Championship, and that’s not just in San Antonio but across the board. The growth of soccer in the U.S. is massive at all levels. From the professional side of things, the quality of players being attracted to the league is growing which makes the league more competitive.”
The goals in San Antonio for 2019 are simple. Powell and his staff want to make sure they are championship driven from all departments from day one to the end of the season. Within the technical staff as well as in the SAFC front office, countless hours and effort have been put into making 2019 a special year on and off the field. When it all comes together at Toyota Field on match day, Powell notices the difference it makes for his players on the pitch.
2018 is firmly behind the organization as it puts its head down and charges into the upcoming campaign full steam. Powell knows each season is unpredictable but is confident in the club to be able to implement their style of play starting in the first match.
“Everybody was disappointed with the outcome of 2018,” Powell said. “We got very close to making the playoffs. But through the entire organization we want to make sure we are one of the top teams on and off the field in the USL Championship. We embrace that as a coaching staff and our job now is making that a reality. We have brought in players to play specific roles not only on the pitch but also players that help with chemistry within the group. Every player is here for a reason. We want to make sure every player embraces that opportunity throughout their time in San Antonio.”
First thing is first. The day Powell had circled on his calendar since the league’s schedule was released in December. March 9 figures to be a tough contest between SAFC and the reigning Western Conference champions Phoenix Rising. Powell is ready for the challenge, just like he has always been.
“You have two very talented teams going head to head on opening night,” he said. “It’s going to be who is most prepared for a USL match on March 9. That’s what’s going to be key.”