Home New mexico united Goalkeeper Matt Cardone stellar in last game with SAFC

Goalkeeper Matt Cardone stellar in last game with SAFC

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As the final whistle sounded on Matt Cardone’s career, his San Antonio FC teammates embraced him for a group hug in the center of the penalty area.

He had played with some of them for years, like midfielder Victor “PC” Giro, who jumped on Cardone’s back. Others he’d only known for a few weeks, but apparently everyone wanted to hang out with the SAFC’s oldest player on his last night.

After grabbing a microphone to thank fans for their support and watching a video presentation of best wishes from current and former teammates, Cardone posed photo after photo, until teammates Jordan Farr and Jasser Khmiri snuck in and l douse coolers with icy water.

In the final game before the 29-year-old Cardone left professional football to enroll in law school at SMU, San Antonio FC provided him with one last clean sheet to add to his record total, replacing him at the 76th minute of a 2-0 win over Charleston Battery on Saturday at Toyota Field.

“It makes me feel so special,” Cardone said. “I will never forget that night and all the love the guys, the fans and everyone in this organization and in the city showed me.”

Charleston Battery takes on San Antonio FC in a USL Championship football game Saturday, July 2, 2022 at Toyota Field in San Antonio. San Antonio won 2-0. (Darren Abate/USL Championship)

Darren Abate, FRE / Darren Abate/USL Championship

About 45 minutes after the game ended, Cardone was still signing autographs and posing for photos with fans, who often identified with the San Antonio native and the only remnant of the club’s inaugural season in 2016.

After the crowd dispersed, about an hour and a half into the match, Cardone walked onto the field one last time with a handful of team personnel, posing for one last photo. The group around him wore all new SAFC “Fear the beard” warm-up t-shirts, with a silhouette of Cardone’s signature hair on the front and “Thank you, Matt!” scrawled on the back.

“Getting the send off that he did was so, so special,” forward Justin Dhillon said. “I’m so grateful to have been able to share this area with him.”

Cardone called his last stint in goal “one of the easiest 15-minute streaks I’ve played in my career” as San Antonio (13-3-1, 40 points) edged Charleston throughout Saturday’s game, holding the Battery (2-12-3, 9 points) without a shot on target.

Santiago Patino scored the opening goal in the 29th minute, collecting a rebound on the second rebound and sending it into the top of the net from around 10 yards out.

Ignacio Bailone added an insurance goal in the 66th minute, scoring a close-range header just six minutes after entering the game as a substitute.

The second goal put fans on alert for Cardone to come on for his first minutes of the season, although Marcina said Cardone would submarine on Saturday ‘regardless of the score’.

A cheer came from the crowd as the video board showed Cardone jogging from the warm-up area towards the SAFC bench. When the substitution came in the 76th minute, Marcina gave Cardone a hug as the fans gave him a standing ovation.

“A special moment – one of the moments that I will cherish for the rest of my life, just because of the human being he is,” Marcina said. “You can’t ask for a better person to represent this club and represent this city, so I was just thanking him in those few moments I had with him before I walked in.”

PC met Cardone in midfield to hand him the captain’s armband.

Earlier this week, Cardone highlighted a game against New Mexico United on July 21 as one of the highlights of his career, recalling how PC stopped to give Cardone the captain’s armband before walking off the pitch in due to injury.

A silent player for most of his career, Cardone said he considers being trusted to lead as one of the biggest signs of his personal growth, and to have it happening again on Saturday was another “really special”.

“It will always be a big part of me. I will never forget it and I will always look back with fondness on my time here, whether it was a difficult time or a successful one, Cardone said. “It really shaped who I am as a person, and it’s going to help me succeed in the next chapter.”

As he prepares for the move to law school, Cardone said he will finally trim the massive beard he considers part of his identity with SAFC.

He ends his career as the club’s all-time leader in appearances (109), minutes (9,556), clean sheets (26) and saves (327).

Cardone played with MacArthur High, Trinity University and the San Antonio Scorpions of the North American Soccer League before joining SAFC for its inaugural season in 2016.

He remained with the club for all seven seasons. No other player has adapted in more than four.

“It was an amazing adventure,” Cardone said. “I’m so happy that it worked out for me to stay in my hometown, move up the ranks and be with this club for so long. It’s been special.

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Twitter: @GregLuca