As San Antonio FC enters the final stages of its inaugural season, it is worth taking a look back to analyze how its season compares to the first season of its predecessor, the San Antonio Scorpions.
The Scorpions played their first season in 2012 before folding in 2015 when the City and County bought Toyota Field and Spurs Sports and Entertainment (SSE) started a new team and a new endeavor at the stadium.
That 2012 season saw the Scorpions finish as regular season champion and win a trophy that remained in the club offices until after the the organization folded. The playoffs, on the other hand, were not so kind to the Scorpions, who went out on their first hurdle in a memorable two-legged tie against the Minnesota Stars, who have since been renamed Minnesota United and are bound for Major League Soccer.
For San Antonio FC, that regular season standing is already off the table. If the team were to win all its remaining matches and earn a total of 52 points – one more than the current leader New York Red Bull II – teams ranked above them still have to play each other, meaning there is no way it could take the very top spot.
There are a few caveats to add to this difference. First, the 2106 United Soccer League (USL) is significantly larger than the 2012 North American Soccer League (NASL). With fewer teams to compete against, opportunities to pick up points playing weaker teams more frequently is easier, and there is more parity at the top.
The next, and probably biggest factor, is timing. The Scorpions had a much longer lead time after the club was founded. The team was announced in October 2010, giving the team 18 months between the announcement and its first match to recruit players.
The Scorpions, therefore, had far more time to put together a squad that would be one of the best in the league. Having been afforded more time than clubs currently playing in the NASL, the Scorpions were able to recruit well and bring in Canadian soccer legend Kevin Harmse, who took on the role of captain.
By comparison, San Antonio FC was only officially added to the USL in January of this year, giving the club a mere three months before its first match. At that point, most of the teams in world soccer had already finalized their squads, meaning player selection for San Antonio FC was slim pickens.
Scorpions fans would have liked to see a lot more Scorpions players stay in San Antonio and join the new club, but as the clock kept on ticking that became a difficult prospect. Despite the loyalty the Scorpions players may have felt for the city, the long gap between the end of the Scorpions season and San Antonio FC’s announcement led to uncertainty for players’ careers, pushing the need for them to move on and secure a stable gig.
The team’s venue, Toyota Field, is another contributing factor to the club’s development. San Antonio FC greatly benefitted from taking over the top-quality stadium that was built specifically for soccer. The Scorpions had started their inaugural season at Heroes Stadium, a football field serving North East Independent School District, before moving to Toyota Field in 2013.
Playing at Heroes Stadium enabled higher average attendance, but Toyota Field is specifically designed for soccer games and, thus, has a better fan experience. The venue allows the sale of alcoholic beverages and fans are significantly closer to the pitch, which creates a more engaged atmosphere.
Soccer player Pablo Campos was the Scorpions’ big star in that first season. He scored 20 goals in the regular season before his red card in the semi-final cost the Scorpions dearly. While San Antonio FC doesn’t have a clear goal scoring leader, and, barring a miracle, none of the players will hit 20 goals, but striker Franck Tayou has quickly become a fan favorite at Toyota Field.
Form is another significant difference as San Antonio FC enters its final matches of their first regular season hitting excellent form. The Scorpions fell off toward the end of their first season, winning only one of their last six matches. San Antonio FC is coming into its last five matches with victories in three of their last four matches and a strong desire to keep that momentum going as they head towards the playoffs.
Leadership was also been a key difference between the Scorpions’ and San Antonio FC’s first season. The Scorpions’ president Michael Hitchcock was only in place for one season before being outed prior to the start of the second season, leaving the team’s management shaky and its future uncertain.
For San Antonio FC, the future is very much at the forefront of every decision that’s made. San Antonio FC Chairman Tim Holt looks to and talks about the club’s future every chance he gets. Case in point: Holt recently announced the formation of the San Antonio FC Pro Academy, an initiative geared toward developing homegrown talent and building a solid foundation for the club’s future.
Unfortunately, the Scorpions did not last, as selling the club always seemed like a viable option. SSE, on the other hand, is committed to becoming an integral part of the San Antonio community. That means sensibly managing fiscal affairs and creating an organization and an atmosphere that fans, players, and executives want to be part of. Winning games doesn’t hurt either.
Top image: San Antonio FC fans cheer loudly during the team’s first home game on Saturday, April 9, 2016. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone