As the United Soccer League season kicks off this weekend, New York City FC hasn’t announced officially who their USL affiliate will be for the 2018 season. But based on moves this offseason it seems likely that the affiliation with San Antonio FC will be renewed for another year. Here are five things you should know about our likely affiliates.
San Antonio FC is expected to be NYCFC’s 2018 affiliate
Let’s get this out of the way first, San Antonio FC has not been announced as the 2018 USL affiliate of NYCFC. The two clubs were affiliated for the 2017 MLS and USL seasons, and are expected to continue that relationship, but no official announcement has been made as of the writing of this article. While initially thought to be a “front office” affiliation between the two groups, SAFC Managing Director Tim Holt recently described the relationship to Texas Soccer Radio as being focused on the technical side of things. The player movement of Sebastien Ibeagha and Mikey Lopez is direct evidence of that, and strengthens the speculation of the two clubs continuing their affiliation in 2018.
San Antonio FC is a defense-first club
The Alamo City club had arguably the best defense in USL in 2017, recording a league-leading 15 shutouts. The squad had the services of both 2017 USL Goalkeeper of the Year Diego Restrepo and 2017 USL Defender of the Year Sebastien Ibeagha, but the defensively-minded scheme was practiced from the strikers all the way to the keeper.
The solid defensive play earned Ibeagha a preseason trial with NYCFC, from which he earned a roster spot and his first MLS start in the club’s home-opening win over LA Galaxy.
San Antonio FC is owned by the Spurs and is very new
San Antonio is not a new market for professional soccer. While the Spurs Sports and Entertainment owned club San Antonio FC took the pitch in 2016, the city has been home to multiple pro soccer teams. Most recently, NASL’s San Antonio Scorpions FC called Toyota Field home before folding after the 2015 season. Despite playing in the same stadium and with a handful of the same players, the two clubs are unrelated businesses.
Interestingly enough, the Scorpions and SAFC were essentially competitors at various points. While the Scorpions started play in 2012, the Spurs ownership actively pushed to find a venue to place their USL team but eventually held off until the 2016 season.
San Antonio FC has integrated into the SA soccer landscape
It’s hard to have much of a history when the club is only going on its third season, but San Antonio FC has done its best to be part of a very established soccer landscape in San Antonio.
At the professional level, some of the first announced SAFC players in 2016 were former fan-favorites from the San Antonio Scorpions squad along with local university standouts.
One player in particular, midfielder Rafa Castillo, has all but guaranteed his place in the San Antonio’s sports hall of fame. His fantastic bicycle kick goal in the 2014 Soccer Bowl helped lead the Scorpions to their 2-1 victory to become NASL champions. Rafa was a main fixture for SAFC in 2016, but missed most of 2017 with injury. The Colombian will turn 38 this season as he continues on with SAFC, though likely with significantly fewer minutes than we’ve seen in past seasons.
San Antonio FC also maintains a USSF pro academy in conjunction with their first team. In its brief existence, the academy has seen two players called up to U.S. Soccer U-15 camp and a third player, 16 year old Ethan Bryant, signed to a contract with the senior team. One of the objectively best parts of the academy is that it operates at no cost to the players, with the club fronting the bill for the boys.
San Antonio FC wants to be in MLS, and an Austin team will make that difficult
San Antonio has been a potential market for MLS for over a decade, even being announced as an MLS expansion location in 2005 only to have the project derailed by the city leaders at the time. The bid Spurs Sports and Entertainment put forward to MLS in January 2017 is likely the strongest the market has ever submitted to the top league, though few details have been made public.
However the bid has been placed on hold per SS&E’s request, and will likely stay as such while the Austin / Columbus situation is resolved. If Austin gets an MLS franchise, either through the Crew’s relocation or via expansion, it could be detrimental to SA’s bid as the two cities are roughly 90 minutes apart. The strong soccer cultures in both markets could benefit MLS, but convincing the league to accept both would take some great sales work from the Spurs. My personal opinion is that if Austin gets a team, San Antonio would be in sometime after the “final” 28 spots. The Spurs are too good of an ownership group to reject, though it could be another decade before expansion reaches 30-34 teams.
San Antonio FC kicks off their 2018 USL campaign at Sacramento Republic on Saturday night. The match is expected to be available to stream live on YouTube for free. What do you think of NYCFC’s expected USL affiliate? Let us know in the comments or on social media.