It wasn’t the way the club envisioned the season ending. Apart from the quarterfinal loss, the manner in which it happened – a clear handball that led to the New Mexico goal – made the end a bit harder to swallow from and SAFC standpoint. After a season that was dictated by obstacles, distractions, adjustments and adaptation, SAFC players and staff persevered to finish atop their group and earn the club’s second playoff berth in history.
The way it ended, just didn’t feel right.
“Our players are incredibly disappointed,” SAFC Head Coach Alen Marcina said after the game. “I told players and staff in the locker room that I was incredibly proud of each of them. They left it all out there and they made 210 [San Antonio] proud.”
"It’s a pretty terrible feeling,” defender Joshua Yara echoed. “It’s a game that should not have ended the way it did. Everyone is disappointed obviously especially with the way they scored and the way that the game ended.”
The loss expectedly stung for a bit, but as the weeks passed and the wounds healed, Marcina and company have gotten back to work already preparing for 2021. As they say, time waits for no man, and SAFC couldn’t waste too much of it focusing on how 2020 ended, but instead they are focused on how to start off 2021.
It starts with reflection. The coaching staff has taken a long look and the positives and negatives of the previous campaign, and there are a lot of good things to takeaway aside from the team’s top finish in Group D. SAFC recorded its second longest unbeaten streak in team history, had three SAFC Pro Academy products make their professional debuts and finished unbeaten (7-0-1) at home during the regular season. Marcina, his staff and the SAFC players acknowledged these positives and need to look back on them fondly.
“As a collective, we are very proud of what was achieved last season during these trying times,” Marcina said. “To go undefeated at home in the regular season, finishing first in our group and three points short of finishing tied for first in the overall league standings is a significant team accomplishment. It is our second consecutive year that we have a player nominated as a finalist for the USL Young Player of Year Award. All players and staff each played a meaningful part in the newly implemented high-performance culture.”
One thing that has always been apart of the club’s identity and was amplified even more in 2020 is the dedication to a strong first-team along with growing and developing local youth players in the region through the SAFC Pro Academy. The 2020 roster saw a healthy mix of veteran players with championship experience to go along with young emerging starts – products of the academy along with players from abroad – which provided a successful recipe. Heading into 2021, that identity will still be as prevalent as ever.
“We believe a balance of youth and veterans allow us to meet our team objective of establishing SAFC as a national leader in team performance and player development,” added Marcina.
As the new culture grows and SAFC builds on its 2020 success next season, the staff is beginning to piece together the roster for next season. With certain players from 2020 already under contract for next season (who are likely to be announced later this month), SAFC will also look to retain and add key players in each position going forward.
One thing is certain. Aside from ability on the field, Marcina and his staff will require players to share the club’s vision and values so that the team standards are upheld. Marcina has a strong track record of recreating exciting and talented players, but 2020 was just another example of how those players he recruits also need to buy in to the team culture – which the 2020 roster did phenomenally.
“We want to retain, identify, and acquire people who share our vision, objectives, values, and can execute the team standards to continue to evolve our culture,” Marcina said of his recruitment. “We are looking for people with a growth mindset, who are relentless in preparation, have a high degree of integrity, and put the good of the team ahead of themselves. Our loyal and passionate fans can continue to expect to see our team trademark standards of being the aggressors with and without the ball and a collective 'earn everything' mindset.”
With the end of the 2020 season firmly in the rearview mirror, the excitement levels for 2021 are starting to build. The offseason is officially underway, and SAFC fans will be excited to see who joins the club’s roster for next season. No matter what the team looks like, Marcina, the staff and fans can expect the culture and vision for the team to only get stronger.