SAN ANTONIO – “It’s weird how much you miss something when you can’t have it.”
When San Antonio FC officially restarted full workouts earlier this month, no one was happier than Boerne native Blake Smith.
“Just to be back out there on grass again was inexplicable,” Smith explained. “It was a nice feeling having a soccer ball at your feet. And then seeing your teammates again... it’s like seeing your brothers that you haven’t been able to hang out with.”
With the veteran defender’s return to the Alamo City back as a member of the club, this is the closest Smith has been to home in his seven-year professional soccer career. That proximity to friends and family has been a huge boon during these tumultuous times.
“I think I’ve had a bit of an advantage. I can’t imagine being some of these guys and locked up in an apartment by themselves. I’ve been very privileged in the fact that I have a house here, and my parents aren’t too far away either. I’ve been able to spread out.”
Words cannot express how blessed I am to be back in San Antonio! Extremely excited for this opportunity. Can’t wait to meet all of the fans and supporter groups and reunite with my city!! Thank you @SanAntonioFC for making this dream become a reality! @USLChampionship https://t.co/ppuBbmVNAH— Blake Smith (@Besmith_23) December 23, 2019
Smith made a splash at the University of New Mexico and was drafted No. 8 overall by the Montreal Impact in the 2013 MLS SuperDraft. He has played all over the United States and Canada in a plethora of leagues and developed a wealth of professional experience and knowledge. Now, as the oldest member on SAFC’s current roster at just 29 years old, Smith has been charged with a different role: using that experience to help the team around him grow.
“It’s crazy that I’m actually the oldest player on the team, Smith said. “I’ve never been in that position in my entire career. It’s not necessarily the norm to be 29 and be the oldest guy on the team. We have a very young team, and Alen trusts me to be in a leadership role. I’m just here to help the process along and help be the bridge between the coaches and the players. It’s been a fun position. It’s a position of respect, and I’m able to help out the younger players. It’s also something I’m not really used to, so I’m also developing in that sense.”
With the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in mid March, Smith’s position as a leader was put to the test. Most of the Alamo City club’s daily functions ground to a halt, as players were forced to quarantine. During that period of uncertainty, players had to adapt on the fly with makeshift workouts developed by the coaching staff.
“They were just saying, ‘Stay as fit as possible. Get out and run if you can.' Once we moved past that point, we started the next phase of transition, which was Zoom workouts,” Smith explained. “That was everything that you could do with a ball in a 10ft x 10ft space: a lot of stationary movement, jogging in place and core exercises. As a soccer player, where you run a 120-yard pitch, to be limited to that small space is a huge adjustment for us. It was tough, but we made do. We’ve taken every step towards our safety, and now it’s back to full contact.”
The one thing that’s helped the most throughout the pandemic? Team chemistry. Tactical adjustments and physical fitness aside, Smith believes that the club’s bond off the pitch will help them hit the ground running when the season officially resumes.
“We came a long way in a short amount of time, from the preseason to the actual first game against Salt Lake, to get back to that point in terms of our team camaraderie was pretty easy. I think we all missed each other, missed the game, and we’re itching to get back out there. We’re making huge gains in a short amount of time to get prepared for next weekend.”
Smith and San Antonio FC take the pitch at H-E-B Park in Edinburg for their second season opener against RGV FC next Friday, July 17. They will return home to Toyota Field to host the Toros again the following Saturday, July 25. Fans will not be allowed to attend the home opener due to health and safety concerns. Both matches are currently scheduled to begin at 8 p.m.