San Antonio FC’s tactical and personnel changes make them trophy contenders

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  • With a big signing and some tactical tweaks, San Antonio FC are making some noise in the USL Championship

This piece is an excerpt from this Monday’s Weekend Recap.

You wouldn’t blame San Antonio FC for resting on their laurels. They’re tied for the league-lead in points in the USL Championship, after all.

But they’re not resting on their laurels. Alen Marcina’s side has continued to experiment and improve. Coming off of a loss to the Sacramento Republic on June 4 – just their third loss in 13 games this year – the Texas side had a big week that could signal a new course for their season.

New Addition

In the middle of last week, the team made waves by signing Samuel Adeniran on loan from the Seattle Sounders. Adeniran tallied double-digit goals last year with the Tacoma Defiance and he shines in transition. The forward doesn’t have the sharpest first touch, but he’s highly energetic and knows how to leverage great pace and a developed frame in the attack. There are deft moments on the ball, and his movement is impressive in the open field. That skillset was on full display on San Antonio’s opening goal against Monterey Bay FC this weekend in an away win.

Adeniran made a run on the far side during a transition move, finding a lane in the space between Monterey’s central defender and right wingback. That’s a typical run for him. Adeniran’s shot is knocked in for an own goal from there, capping off a debut performance where he tallied three shots and two additional chance creations.

The forward is a natural fit within San Antonio’s transition-centric style. Marcina’s unit sits in the top five of the USL for their share of long passes and in the bottom five for pass completions. At the same time, SAFC ranks in the bottom half for shots allowed. In other words, they absorb pressure and look to spring direct passes into dynamic forwards like Adeniran and Justin Dhillon.

Tactical changes

To facilitate this style, San Antonio had relied on a back three all season long. This formation, which usually looks like a 3-5-2, puts three central defenders between the opposing attack and the goal. It also facilitates aggressive wingback play in support of those mobile forwards.

Against Sacramento on June 4, however, San Antonio noticeably lacked midfield creation. 

To get a needed boost, they ditched their back three commitment in favor of a 4-4-2 this past weekend. In that system, wide midfielder David Loera regularly tucked inside as a No. 10. This shift let Loera create in the middle and enabled the forwards ahead of him – Adeniran and Dhillon – to make runs into the wide spaces. 

With their ingenuity, San Antonio earned three goals on the road against Monterrey, including that Loera-to-Adeniran opener.

Going forward, San Antonio likely will revert to the back three for long stretches. Still, they deserve praise for reacting to the subtle chinks in their armor and bringing in players and tactical innovations to solidify their very real title chances.