San Antonio made its case to be considered a city that can support high-level soccer with four big matches over the weekend. Separate matches hosted by San Antonio FC and San Antonio Athenians SC, followed by a Gold Cup doubleheader at the Alamodome, added up to 54,776 spectators over a three-day period.
Headliner Mexico secured a 2-0 victory over Curaçao, while El Salvador and Jamaica played to a 1-1 draw in Gold Cup play. San Antonio FC tied with its rival Oklahoma City Energy FC.
The soccer-filled weekend kicked off Friday morning when San Antonio FC supporters filled GS1221 to hear Head Coach Darren Powell and Managing Director Tim Holt be interviewed by Sirius XM’s The United States of Soccer, which was broadcasting live from the midtown bar. When asked by host Jason Davis about the club’s Major League Soccer hopes, Holt reaffirmed Spurs Sports and Entertainment’s (SSE) commitment to bringing the top-level league to San Antonio. SSE owns San Antonio FC.
“The ambition here has been pretty clear and evident and public from day one, which is establishing a professional club through [United Soccer League], building that up with the ultimate goal of bringing Major League Soccer to San Antonio. That has not changed over the 18 months,” Holt said.
He also emphasized that San Antonio FC is in regular contact with the league it hopes to join and has met many times both in New York City, where MLS headquarters are located and in San Antonio. Very few specifics of SSE’s expansion bid have been made public.
Holt painted efforts as “a little less PR-driven, and more focused on knowing there are certain things we need to do and accomplish that are important to MLS that we’re doing very methodically with the goal of bringing MLS here in the quickest possible time frame.”
He likened the expansion of Toyota Field to other public venue projects such as the Alamodome, Convention Center, and AT&T Center. MLS expansion would require that the 8,000-seat stadium be expanded to seat roughly 20,000 fans.
“We have a new Mayor in Ron Nirenberg who is very very supportive,”Holt said on the stadium expansion project. “The same has been the case with Judge [Nelson] Wolff at Bexar County. So for us it’s a matter of making sure we get that right.”
On Friday night, the action moved to Toyota Field as San Antonio FC hosted rivals OKC Energy FC. The match marked the first of three times in the weekend that soccer being played in San Antonio would be broadcast into homes nationwide. The match resulted in a 1-1 draw that saw SAFC concede a goal in the closing seconds. The crowd of 8,131 marked San Antonio FC’s third sellout this season.
Saturday night saw soccer being played with a larger purpose in mind, as Women’s Premier Soccer League’s San Antonio Athenians SC hosted an international friendly against Tigres UNAL, losing 3-2. With an official attendance of 2,413 at Blossom Athletic Center, the San Antonio club donated 10% of ticket sales to fallen SAPD Officer Miguel Moreno’s family. Moreno was shot while on duty on June 29 and succumbed to his injuries the following day.
On Sunday, the attention turned to the biggest matches of the weekend, as Jamaica faced El Salvador and Mexico battled Curaçao in a CONCACAF Gold Cup doubleheader at the Alamodome. The Gold Cup is the championship of CONCACAF, the FIFA region of which the United States and Mexico are members, and is played throughout the U.S. from July 7 through July 26.
Though the opening match between Jamaica and El Salvador was not the main event of the evening for most attendees, fields of blue jerseys worn by El Salvador supporters lined the outside of the Alamodome before doors opened. The chants and songs coming from the groups excited to see their national team play carried throughout the exterior of the building, and the passionate groups were the first thing many attendees parking in the Alamodome lots were greeted by in the afternoon.
The crowd showed well inside the stadium as well: A group of supporters claimed seats in the upper corner sections, complete with drumming, trumpets, and plenty of singing. On the pitch, the two sides played to a 1-1 draw, ensuring both would advance to the quarterfinals of the tournament.
As the first match neared its end, the stadium welcomed a familiar sea of green with the arrival of Mexico’s national team fans. The match brought in enough fans to fill most of the stadium, leaving the only large patches of available seats in the upper decks behind each goal. The on-field product was closer than the 2-0 score line indicates, but at the end of the night El Tri secured its place as winners of the group. The result places Mexico in the quarterfinals against Honduras, setting up what should be the easiest scenario for Mexico, which wouldn’t face the highest-ranked opponents, the United States and Costa Rica, until the Gold Cup Final.
The official attendance for the doubleheader at the Alamodome was 44,232. Per-game attendance numbers are not available due to the event being billed as one ticket.
The crowd at the Alamodome was loud and impressive, but the when the same four teams played in San Diego on July 9, the official attendance was 53,133. When the same group traveled to Denver on July 13, 49,121 fans attended. San Antonio’s lower attendance is on par with other late-schedule markets.
Simply put, more fans went to earlier scheduled matches in the 2017 group stage. While it holds true in all three Gold Cup groups, one example is the difference between the first and second matches in which the U.S. participated. The U.S. men’s national team drew 47,622 to its first match of the tournament in Nashville, but only 23,368 to its second in Tampa.
However, San Antonio’s attendance numbers were higher than the two Texas cities that currently have MLS clubs. Houston drew just 12,019 while Frisco, home of FC Dallas, drew only 10,048. The two cities did not have Mexico or the U.S. to help build their numbers, but both are significantly larger and more diverse markets.
With a full slate of matches and a strong Gold Cup turnout, San Antonio showed its appetite for soccer. The city could learn as soon as this winter if it has done enough to raise San Antonio FC to Major League Soccer level and continuing to successfully host international matches could raise San Antonio’s stock as a potential host city ahead of a likely 2026 World Cup hosted by the U.S., Mexico, and Canada.