Now, they’re in eighth place and a playoff position after a week where SAFC defeated Arizona United and Seattle Sounders 2. Welcome to the USL’s wild Western Conference.
Entering the final month of the USL regular season, almost every team is in the playoff hunt and even the conference’s top teams have work to do to clinch a playoff spot. With SAFC sitting in eighth place entering Saturday’s match at Saint Louis FC, the team is six points ahead of 14th place, and just nine points out of first.
SAFC faces Saint Louis at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, with the game streaming on SanAntonioFC.com
“There’s not much discrepancy between the top team in the league and the bottom team,” SAFC coach Darren Powell said. “It makes the stakes so high that it’s almost like a cup final every game.”
Every match seems to alter the table, Powell said, so players and coaches can’t help but look at the standings.
SAFC’s next five matches are against teams that are currently within two points in the table. SAFC’s next opponent, Saint Louis, has 29 points to SAFC’s 31. The following opponent, Swope Park, has 30.
SAFC has one match left against a team currently in playoff position, playing at third-place RGV on Sept. 24.
“It makes every single game a six-point swing,” said defender Greg Cochrane. “This is where you earn your checks.”
With how tight the conference has been, anything can happen once the USL playoffs begin. As long as SAFC is one of the teams in the playoffs.
The USL playoffs are a frenzied four weeks, with the top eight teams from each conference playing in a single-elimination tournament. The brackets are fixed, so there’s no reseeding after each round and the top seed is the host.
To get into the playoffs, tiebreakers are a bit different in the USL compared to other leagues. Total wins are the first tiebreaker, followed by goal differential and goals scored.
Eleven of the 14 other Western Conference teams have played at least one more game than SAFC, giving SAFC a chance at three more potential points.
“We don’t want to look at tiebreakers,” Cochrane said. “Everything is crazy enough as is. We just want to get the points and get in.”
Cochrane said the sense of urgency has been obvious in the SAFC locker room. When faced with the adversity of losing two team leaders in goalkeeper Josh Ford and centerback Stephen McCarthy for the season to injury last week, the team responded with the victories over Arizona and Seattle.
“The beauty of all sports is the challenge,” Powell said. “We can’t change what happened to our injured players, so now we have to focus on the guys available. And we have prepared for these moments.”