Off Pitch is the occasional blog from Roustabouts member Roger Graham. Follow Roger on Twitter at @rogman99
Last week, the USL awarded its 31st franchise to San Antonio, with the announcement that Spurs Sports & Entertainment will own and operate the club that will begin play in 2016. Late last year, the City of San Antonio and Bexar County purchased Toyota Field, where the NASL’s San Antonio Scorpions formerly played, in November of 2015. The Spurs Sports and Entertainment Group (the ownership group of NBA’s San Antonio Spurs and now, San Antonio’s USL’s team) entered into a lease with the City and County. This will move San Antonio’s only professional soccer team from the NASL, the second division of US Soccer’s pyramid, to the USL, currently in the third division. The San Antonio Scorpions will no longer play soccer in the Alamo City. This news has not only made headlines in the United States soccer rounds, but undoubtedly has made a huge impact inside the supporter circles in San Antonio. What does this change mean for Roughneck fans? It means we’ll have a new team in the region, a new supporter group to drink a pint with while exchanging bragging rights, and maybe even a road trip or two to the River Walk!
The Crocketteers (@crocketteers on Twitter), established in 2009, are the main supporter group for all things soccer in San Antonio, including coaching and financial support of three local, inner-city youth teams. The Crocketteers, who were the stalwarts for the Scorpions and boast a membership of 1,500 plus, will also follow suit for the new USL team. President of the Crocketteers, James Hope, is not only excited about the change over to the USL, but the ownership as well.
“People are excited about the change in ownership. When you get an organization like the Spurs Sports & Entertainment and they are interested in what you love, which is soccer; we’re excited about that! We see a great organization that has had success as a smaller market in San Antonio in the NBA. The President and Vice President are big soccer fans and they are excited about bringing a team to San Antonio, with the ability and possibility of moving up to the highest level. This excited all of us! We want to be able to play at the highest level in San Antonio. We think the Spurs Sports & Entertainment has the wherewithal to do it.”
I asked if there would be some confusion to fans about dropping to the third-tier (USL) in lieu of having a second-tier team. Hope said, “I think for a lot of people, there were concerns about what the divisions mean. We’re certain that there’s not much difference between Division 2 and Division 3. This last year in the US Open Cup, the USL went 7-0 versus the NASL teams. Next year, the USL has applied for Division 2 status and has a good chance at getting it.”
WE’RE CERTAIN THERE’S NOT MUCH DIFFERENCE BETWEEN DIVISION 2 AND DIVISION 3
Beyond division status, Hope was open about his views of the NASL in general. “Personally, I have some serious concerns about the NASL and what they’re doing, in terms of salary cap. There are owners out there spending a lot of money on mediocrity. They just don’t get it. I’m concerned about a league like the NASL being around for 10 years. That’s the thing with the [MLS-USL] affiliations between the clubs. You can get 4-5 players from the main club and that could save you a lot of money on player fees.” Besides MLS affiliations in many markets, by playing in the USL, their team would also be able to play many more regional teams.
Speaking of teams in the region, one of the exciting aspects of being a Roughnecks fan in Tulsa is that our nearest rival is only a mere 90 minute drive away. Previously, the nearest opponent for the NASL’s San Antonio Scorpions was in Atlanta, Georgia, a staggering 14.5 hours away by car and a 1000 mile journey. The change to the USL means Rio Grande Valley is 4-5 hours away. “That’ll be our first real rivalry and then Oklahoma City and Tulsa. Next year, we’ll have Austin, which is only 70 miles from San Antonio. We’re just excited that we’re going to be able to physically travel to an away match!” said Hope. “Atlanta, being 17 hours away, you don’t get a lot of people that want to make that trip, and rightfully so.” Hope said that he has talked with Oklahoma City’s supporters, the Grid, and would like to get Tulsa and Rio Grande supporters on board to host a cup or trophy between the four Oklahoma and Texas teams. Stay tuned!
I also asked that if San Antonio ended up playing in the USL for multiple years (instead of being converted to MLS), would fans continue supporting the USL? Hope thinks some will and some won’t. “I think people will, but there are a lot of people who say ‘call me when the MLS comes’. There are people who show up to the bars to the EPL matches every week that won’t come out to a Scorpions match. ‘I’d rather watch it on TV,’ they say. I understand that, we want to work as hard as we can to get to the highest level. We know there are baby steps that have to be done. The USL is a very strong league with very strong players and a business model that I really like. I think a lot of people will see that.”
THE USL IS A VERY STRONG LEAGUE WITH VERY STRONG PLAYERS
Hope is also interested in actually hosting opponents and supporter groups in San Antonio. He stated, “If you come to Toyota [Field], we want to give you a hard time, but we want you to drink with us before the game and after the game. In the stands for 90 minutes we’re going to go at each other, but it’s all in fun! We’re not here to steal your flags or take your scarves.” Hope also offered to help any supporters group or fans willing to make the trip to San Antonio. “You guys are more than welcome to our tailgates. If you need to find somewhere to spend the night, we’ll help you take care of that. We want you all to have a good time here!”
James Hope can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org