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San Antonio: The city where Rising has never won

Owain Evans Avatar
April 2, 2022

There is one team that Phoenix Rising has faced multiple times on the road and has never beaten: San Antonio FC.

So what about the Texan club makes them such a hard side to face on the road?

“We’re always up for the game,” San Antonio’s Matt Cardone said. “Not that we’re not up for every game, but I think against Phoenix, we always maybe even turn it up a little extra notch. It’s been a really tough battle when they’ve come here, and they’ve been good matches.”

Dating back to 2016 when the club was known as Arizona United, Rising has visited San Antonio on five occasions. The hosts have won three of those games, with two ending in draws.

“It is a tough stadium,” Rising winger Santi Moar said. “I haven’t been there with Phoenix, but I’ve been there when I was playing with New Mexico. It’s a really, really tough place to play. A good organization with great players every year, so they make the most out of their home.”

Rising coach Rick Schantz believes that factors beyond just the field have contributed to his team’s record over the years. Phoenix may enjoy its summer advantage of temperatures other clubs aren’t used to, but San Antonio enjoys a similar advantage.

“I think I’ve only been there once when the weather wasn’t like 90 percent humidity, so that might have something to do with it,” Schantz said. “Up until a couple of years ago, we had never won at RGV and we won a game there when it was least expected. Maybe now’s the time to break it. It would be nice.”

However, his counterpart in Texas said another off-field factor might be at play.

“Our fans make Toyota Field a fortress, and we’re incredibly appreciative to our fans, supporter groups,” San Antonio coach Alen Marcina said. “It’s a difficult place to play in. You know our players feed of our fans’ passion and energy and we’re extremely thankful to them.”

The difficulty of tonight’s game goes beyond just past failures. SAFC has started the season with a perfect nine points from three games. Rising has picked up only three points over that same spell.

In particular, San Antonio’s style could prove problematic for a Rising side that has struggled with counter attacks.

“They play a 3-4-3 which transitions into a back five at times,” Schantz said. “They’re very good, willing to play direct. They’re willing to just hit long balls and defend, and a team that’s willing to fight and defend is difficult at times to break down.

“If we can get them pinned back in their own half at all, it’s going to require some long range shooting, which I think that we need to shoot more often. It’s also going to require a tremendous amount of desire to win every long ball and when they do play long, can we get them spread out a little bit and counter? I don’t know.”

Based on talk from the San Antonio camp, Rising’s coach could be correct that the opponents will come out defensive-minded.

“[Rising is] going to push a lot of numbers forward,” San Antonio’s Jordan Farr said. “But at the end of the day, if we can stay structurally sound defensively with our back three, wing-backs and our sixes, and with our forwards obviously pressing and doing their job defensively as well, we’ll be able to combat that and hopefully absorb the pressure and then go on the counter and break lines and do what we do so well which is score goals.

“We definitely do need to tighten things up in the back. Mistakes, ball in the air, balls into the box. It’s going to be things that you’ll see some adjustments on as a core, so it should be good.”

Either Farr or Cardone will start in net for SAFC after Cristian Bonilla’s shock retirement announcement on Thursday.

That means that San Antonio’s goalkeeper will be familiar with one Rising winger: Marcus Epps. Epps played for the side last season as they reached their first-ever Western Conference final.

If Farr gets the nod, he’ll also be familiar with Rising’s other winger Santi Moar. Both of them played together in the PDL for the Charlotte Eagles.

“I’m excited to see [Moar],” Farr said. “He brings a lot of attacking threats: how he cuts in on his right, his delivery, his ability to take people one-on-one. Then with Marcus, he’s kind of just the all-around workhorse. He will get balls, he will make chances happen because of his work rate. As a defensive unit, we do need to be careful not to give him anything easy in transition, so that means being a little bit safer potentially on that side.

“They both bring a lot of dynamic movement going forward, but things again that luckily we get to see in training because we’ve got guys at a similar or even great level coming in at us, so we feel like we’re prepared.”

Beyond just playing styles, confidence from recent form could prove a factor. However, San Antonio’s coach was insistent that his side won’t enter the match with any complacency.

“Our mentality won’t change,” Marcina said. “We will continue to be the aggressors with and without the ball. Whoever steps on our field or whatever field we step on, that is our mentality. That will never change.”

Now, facing a tougher opponent than in previous weeks, Rising hopes that things finally click into place.

“They’re very good,” Schantz said. “Very athletic. They’re very aggressive. They’ve got some really tough players and this is going to be difficult game. Considering where we are emotionally right now, I think it’s extremely important that we go in there as humble as possible and do whatever we can to compete.”

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