San Antonio FC is preparing for perhaps their most important game of the season.
It’s not playoff time, but rather it’s time to take on Major League Soccer (MLS) opposition in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup on Wednesday night. The match is vital for the San Antonio FC, club Managing Director Tim Holt told the Rivard Report earlier this week.
“It’s enormously important,” Holt said. “We put great value in U.S. Open Cup performance. For us it’s of high importance, not more or less important than our league, but certainly it is important.”
The U.S. Open Cup match on Wednesday provides San Antonio FC with a unique opportunity to test themselves in a competitive match against a higher division opponent – the two time MLS champions Houston Dynamo. But Houston is on a downward swing, and that opportunity excites Holt.
“You use it as a measuring stick, and it’s an opportunity to make some headlines, and make more and more people aware of what you are doing,” said Holt, looking at the on and off field opportunities.
This match could indeed bring big headlines for the club. A San Antonio team has only ever defeated an MLS team once in a meaningful, 2012 match between the San Antonio Scorpions and Houston Dynamo, and it still stands as the biggest modern era crowd for a club game in San Antonio. On that occasion, the Scorpions beat Houston Dynamo, but a Spurs playoff win the same night overshadowed the Scorpions’ victory.
With the Spurs out of the playoffs, to the dismay of Spurs Sports and Entertainment and arguably most of the San Antonio population, that same conflict won’t get in the way this year.
“It presents a great opportunity for us,” Holt said. “It will be a difficult game, (playing) away at any MLS team will (be difficult). Our guys are excited for it, and we’re going to be ready for it.”
San Antonio will play Wednesday on the road, something that has disappointed a lot of their fans, as well as Holt.
“We’d rather host the game,” he said. “We believe we would have had an enormous crowd and that’s another opportunity to grow the sport in San Antonio… If we want to host an MLS team in the U.S. Open Cup this season then we have to take care of business on Wednesday.”
Having to play in Houston may not have happened under the old structure where teams bid on home matches. Under that system, most MLS teams routinely didn’t bother to bid since the financial incentive was not there for them to open their larger stadiums. This allowed lower division teams to host matches.
But that doesn’t bother Holt.
“In that situation, the lower division teams were at a disadvantage if the MLS team anted up a bid,” he said. “I was part of the Open Cup committee when these changes were made, and I think they’re better. They’re more equitable throughout all rounds of the tournament, it’s just luck of the draw and that’s fine.”
The tournament could be an opportunity for San Antonio FC to get their season back on track after a disappointing season to this point with only two wins out of 12 matches. But Holt rejects that.
“Our form has been good in the Cup. We’ve played twice, and we’ve won (both games),” he said. “Wednesday is another opportunity to move forward in this. (The USL and the Cup) are interrelated, but we don’t feel like our season needs to be turned around, it’s still fairly early.
“We also don’t look at this as if we beat Houston everything is changed, because it hasn’t,” Holt continued. “We’re still going to play Colorado Springs on Saturday, and we still sit where we sit right now after 12 games, whether we win at Houston or don’t.”
As for what San Antonio FC’s goal is for the U.S. Open Cup, Holt didn’t put an exact round on it, but rather a general aim for the team.
“You want to be realistic. Everybody that is in the Cup has dreams of winning the tournament. For us being able to beat an MLS team in the tournament would be a huge achievement, it would be a great accomplishment for a young club, probably the biggest win in club history to date,” Holt said. “We’ve always felt like that was part of what we wanted to achieve in the Cup this year.
“As we look at it, we’d like to be the last USL team standing and in order to do that we have to go to Houston and win.”
Should San Antonio FC achieve that, they would earn some money for the club. The USL club with the latest standing in the tournament is awarded $15,000. While that’s not much money for Spurs Sports and Entertainment, it’s nothing to be sneezed at, and could pay at least some players’ wages for at least part of the year.
At the same time, Holt was also keen to play down expectations.
“Are we going to win the tournament? Realistically, no, that would require beating a lot of MLS teams to be able to do that,” Holt said. “But there’s no reason that we can’t go deep into this tournament if we play the way we think we’re capable of playing.”
Whatever happens, Wednesday is shaping up to be a big match.
Matches against MLS teams in the U.S. Open Cup are “great games,” Holt said. “The players love them, the fans love them, it’s great, and just to be able to do this, no other sport in the country has that. Where you’re able to match up in a game that counts, against a team in the major leagues.
“So we’ll go in there and put our best foot forward.”
Top image: San Antonio FC players celebrate winning in the second round of the US Open Cup. Photo courtesy of San Antonio FC.