San Antonio, TX–Alejandro Guido bent a ball toward goal Friday night. It floated from left to right. It appeared to be heading in for goal, unfortunately for San Diego Loyal the ball was cleared at the last moment at the goal line by the San Antonio defender.
It was that type of night for SD Loyal. Missed opportunities, miscues and the inability to break through a stifling defense led to a 2-0 loss against host San Antonio FC in the team’s first playoffs appearance. San Antonio scored both goals early in the match and SD Loyal could not recover in the Western Conference quarterfinals of the USL Championship playoffs presented by TwinSpires at Toyota Field.
“I think that play epitomizes the game,” SD Loyal Manager, Landon Donovan said about the near goal. “They made plays like that in the box that made the difference and we didn’t. I said to the guys all week that every play matters in these games. Of course, the big plays matter but every little play makes a difference and we didn’t make a couple of plays defensively and we didn’t make a couple plays to at least score one goal to get us a chance to get back in the game. That was the tale of the game and that play probably epitomizes the night perfectly.”
The night included Nathan Fogoca (14th minute) and Santiago Patiño (25th) finding the net for San Antonio, both scores coming on mistakes in the back by SD Loyal. Fogaca on a header off a bending free-kick from Mohammed Abu. Fogoca charged into the area uncontested to get his head on the ball and convert. He nearly scored again a minute later when he tried a shot on a breakaway but SD Loyal goalkeeper Austin Guerrero dove to make the save.
San Antonio extended the lead when Patiño tapped in a deflected ball at the goal line for the 2-0 lead. SD Loyal defender Callum Montgomery tried to clear a pass into the area but headed it towards his own goal. Patiño was charging the goal line and tapped the second goal for the home club.
San Antonio FC moves on to the semifinals where it will face the winner of Phoenix Rising FC and RGV FC Toros quarterfinal Saturday.
“The beginning of the game looked like what we thought it would look like, fast, hectic and them putting us under some pressure,” Donovan said. “Ultimately, on two set-pieces we gave up for the two goals on the night made the difference. A lot of times this is what these games are about and unfortunately, we got punished for it. For our club and for our team it’s a big learning experience that if you’re not sharp on every single play, that’s what happens in games like this. We got punished.”
SD Loyal’s season comes to an end after finishing third in the Pacific Division. It began its second season 0-4, then went on a nine-game unbeaten streak and then a rollercoaster of results before clinching a postseason berth with four regular-season matches remaining. It needed at least a pair of wins in that stretch to secure second place and a home playoff match. Instead, it finished the regular season with two draws and two losses, sending the team to face San Antonio FC in this side of the playoffs bracket.
Donovan prepared his team to come into its first-ever playoff match and face a physical San Antonio team that likes to slow down the game with fouls. San Antonio did some of that Friday night but it also forced SD Loyal to make mistakes and kept Donovan’s team from moving the ball fluidly in opponent territory. That meant SD Loyal didn’t get a lot of looks at goal despite winning possession and 15 shots. San Antonio had 11 shots with three on target. Two were enough to find the net and seal the win.
“We saw at the end of the year what our weaknesses are,” Donovan said, “Through long stretches of the year we were very good but at the end of the year when the games mean a little bit more for every team you see where your weaknesses are. We found that out over the last few weeks. We saw it on set pieces. We saw it on giving up leads. We saw it on not scoring the goals when we had the chance. Ultimately, that’s what prevented us from winning tonight but also not getting second place and a home game in the playoffs. These are all learning experiences for us and for me as a coach. Ultimately, being ready to play the first minutes is my responsibility.”
SD Loyal did pressure late in the match with scoring attempts by Guido and Augustine Williams but could not breakthrough to avoid the shutout. Williams did have SD Loyal’s best scoring chance in the 36th minute when he took a shot from inside the penalty box on the left side, but San Antonio goalkeeper Jordan Farr came out and slid to make the save.
And then there was the play a few seconds later, the one where Guido nearly scored with a bending shot from left to right. But San Antonio’s Mitchel Taintor was there to head it out at the goal line.
“It’s crucial. You have to feel what it feels like, even when you lose,” Donovan said about the experience. “You have to feel what the game feels like and you have to feel what losing feels like so the next time you get that moment you don’t want to feel that. That is something you have to go through and experience so you can understand it. You can talk to them all week about what we think the game is going to look like and how plays are going to look like but ultimately you have to see it for yourself and know next time you have to remember that and channel that and prevent that from happening.”