The idea of a soccer "derby" eluded me when I was younger. Not only because I heard it as a "dArby", but also because American announcers would always make a point to distance it from our petty little rivalries in the US. Derbies are a rivalry, but fueled by years of bad blood and proximity - where immense soccer fervor allowed multiple teams to pop up within a few miles of each other. It both unites an divides a city, allowing these stories to be immortalized by people like Elijah Wood, fictionally fighting alongside West Ham fans (in what is easily his most manly performance, if not completely unlikely) against their hated Millwall opposition.
So, obviously, my mind saw the derby through lenses of hooliganism and Hollywood via "Green Street Hooligans". Side note: if Frodo was anything like this in LOTR, Mordor would've fallen in minutes (warning: link contains violence and language typical of what Hollywood would suspect a English brawl looks like). Still, I am a passionate Houston sports fan, and have obvious dispositions toward rivals. I spent this past Wednesday watching the Rockets/Spurs game, celebrating with friends after receiving our acceptances to medical school for the fall. A few sub-par beers in, and I think everyone knew exactly how I felt about Tony Parker, Pop, and the Spurs fan base as a whole.
As a Dynamo fan, though, this has always been lacking. FC Frisco has had its moments, but other than Rico kicking a certain fallen forward in the face, it has been missing some much needed vitriol. Don't get be wrong, I hate FC Frisco, but I don't take them seriously. Lo and behold, someone saw fit to spice up Texas soccer with a little Alamo flavor. With the addition of San Antonio Scorpions FC, there's a new guy in town. Granted, they will begin playing in the NASL, but hit the jump to see the what's going on down I-10 and why it could grow into a Texas-sized Derby (sans Frisco).The Scorpions were established in 2010, funded by San Antonio philanthropist Gordon Hartman. The key word here is "philanthropist", as Hartmann has set up the franchise as a source of revenue for Morgan's Wonderland, a fully accessible "fun park" for special needs children. According to their website, this is the first instance in which a sport's franchise and its revenue will directly support a non-profit organization.
Now, as alluded to above, it is extremely hard for me to get behind San Antonio sports. Simply put, the "Go Spurs Go" movement haunts my dreams. But, I can't help but be endeared towards an effort such as this. I've been to Morgan's Wonderland, and seen how much good they're doing. Taking this unprecedented step to seek both athletic and philanthropic success is a true testament to the San Antonio community, and all of the work that has gone into the venture. So once the NASL season begins, it is easy to say that something fantastic has already been achieved in the Alamo City. But the moves that the franchise have made in the last few months speak to a greater goal that I think is brewing within the Scorpions franchise. While a philanthropic profit should be (relatively) easy to come by, with a dominant hispanic population hungry for professional soccer, success on a soccer level has to be put into perspective in the lower leagues. But is the NASL their final destination?
In my opinion, no. I think this franchise has eyes on future MLS play. Heres why: of the six main front office execs, four have significant experience in the MLS. Even President Michael Hitchcock served as the FC Dallas GM at one point. All of them list significant sales and marketing experience, and cite the ability to grow a franchise's influence in their city. They have the know-how and drive to expand this team further.
To mold the team into a winning franchise, local and international talent is being scouted. Not shying away from the transfer market, SASFC have already inked defender Javier Saavedra, who previously represented El Tri on the national level. A reserves team is in the works (to be coached by Saavedra), and try-outs are on-going in search of players. But most teams will mimic these sort of actions in their opening months. What sets SASFC apart? Well, light years ahead of the seven years it took the Dynamo, ground will be broken this Spring on a soccer-specific stadium next door to Morgan's Wonderland, ready to light the way at the start of their second season.
So, to recap: MLS-weathered board, fervent fanbase, international talent, and soccer-specific stadium. These have all been noted as reasons for making them an MLS franchise.
While no one can say how the franchise will grow over the next couple years, all signs seem to point up. And though it makes sense to christen them the next "big thing" in a future MLS league, that is still years away. What is most important, to me at least, is two-fold:
1. A franchise has been established dedicated to donating money, not hoarding it. That alone is a miracle. Lets hope that this is more of a peek into what's to come in soccer franchises, instead of a waning fad.
2. While the level of play will be slow at first, here's another chance for a Texas-sized Derby. I'll look to pre-season friendlies and US Open Cup play to see how they may stack up. It would be fun to see our supporter's groups going up against the Crocketeers and Alamo City Ultras (albeit on a decibel level, not a beer-fueled hooligan rumble).
I promise that even though I may turn into a seething lunatic during these fictional derby clashes, I will still respect the franchise for its "soccer for a cause"...even if I will adamantly reject any notion of liking a San Antonio team.