Scorpions Stadium a Success, Even in 2-0 Defeat

The San Antonio Scorpions inaugurated their new stadium, Toyota Field, last night before

East Stands

East Stands

an enthusiastic crowd of 8,177 fans.  Though the stadium itself is a true gem, the team assembled on the field left quite a bit to be desired.  Owner Gordon Hartman has overseen a masterful construction job to give San Antonio one of the premier soccer venues in the nation.  Now, the onus is on coach Tim Hankinson to construct a team worthy of its venue.

Let’s start with the highlights of the evening, which would be the stadium experience.  Toyota Field is simply amazing, and the Scorpions organization is to be highly commended, not just for creating this intimate and engaging stadium, but for pulling off what has to be one of the smoothest openings of a venue in recent memory.   Traffic to Toyota Field was amazingly manageable, even though we arrived from Austin just 30 minutes before game time.  Directions to parking were clear, and the parking at the NEISD stadium complex was free!

West Stands

West Stands

The walk to the stadium to get the tickets at will call was a bit confusing, but mainly because we followed a group of season ticket holders to the season ticket pickup.  If we had gone directly to Will Call, it would have been a much quicker experience.  Even so, with a sold out crowd we still only waited about five minutes in the Will Call line.  From there the time through the gates was less than a minute.

Entering the stadium, everything was clearly marked and all facilities were up and running, an amazing feat considering the quick timetable for construction on the stadium.  The south goal end boasts a section of two and four person tables with a great view of the length of the field.  The section is so close to the goal that netting is required, but it doesn’t spoil the view of the experience. On the north end, a large video board provides simulcast action during the match.  The West stands, where we sat, boast the traditional European awning, providing both shade and a little protection from the elements.  The West concourse features concessions, beer sales, and a snow cone kiosk.  The East stands are basically unprotected and facing the sun, although with evening starts and the taller west stands, the sun issue looks to be a minor one.

The word that kept coming to mind both in the run up and through the match was

North Stands

North Stands

“intimate.”  The stands are remarkably close to the pitch.  There are no barriers, fencing or cages like you see in Europe.  Substitutes warm up jogging within a few feet of the stands, and the action is so close to the first row, the spectators see and hear everything happening right in front of them.  The viewlines on this stadium are amazing.  There is not a bad seat in the house.  Walking around, even the corner of the stadium provide a clear and close view of the action.  In fact, the sight lines are so well planned I found myself wondering if the worst obstruction is the railing in the aisle, and if that would lead me to buy tickets in the center of a section rather than on the aisle itself!

The concessions are reasonably priced.  With the overflow crowd, the West concessions ran out of some items by the end of halftime, but the East stands seemed well stocked.  Beer vendors in the stands sell cans for $6.50, while the draft at the concession stand is $6.  Nachos were $3.50.  Hot dogs, pretzels, candy, popcorn and peanuts make up the traditional concession stand fare.  Alcohol sales in the stands end at about the 60 minute mark and in the concession area at 75 minutes.

Presentation of the Teams

Presentation of the Teams

The action on the field, however, did not match the splendor of the stadium.  The NASL is the 2nd tier of U.S. professional soccer, so you go in knowing you aren’t going to see Barcelona play.  This isn’t the EPL, but it also isn’t MLS.  That reminder is actually quite the credit to MLS, because in the early days, there was much debate about whether the A-League (the second division at the time) actually had better teams and players than MLS.  MLS has made huge advances in the last 15 years, and it is a class well above the NASL.  Still, the overall lack of style and concept in the Scorpions play was disappointing.  In fairness, the Scorpions stumbled out of the gate last year, only to finish with the best regular season record in the league.

This year, however, they clearly miss 2012 NASL Golden Boot winner Pablo Campos, now Photo Apr 13, 8 21 45 PMplaying with the Minnesota franchise.  Through two games, the Scorpions have yet to find the back of the net, and more importantly, seemed to be struggling to find a vision of how they intend to change that statistic.  Although the scorer generously credited the home side with 13 shots, there were few moments of danger.  The Scorpions showed very little midfield build up, relying primarily on direct balls either over the top or to the feet of target players who then tried to slide passes through.  Too often though, the style was straight ball to straight run, with the predictable outcome of a ball safely in the hands of the Tampa keeper.   There were some good chances created off the dribble and one from a brilliant diagonal ball that changed the point of attack and put a Scorpions striker in to goal.  However, there was little cohesion in the attack, and most of the night was spent hoping for a break and defending the counter.  The late substitution of former UIW star Esteban Bayona gave some spark and some life to the Scorpions attack.  Bayona only saw the field because substitute Bryan Jordan pulled up with a hamstring on his first run of the night.  Perhaps Bayona’s showing in his 25 minutes of playing time has earned him some more time on the field and the Scorpions a bit of creativity up front.

Defensively, as well, the Scorpions were confused at times.  In the 13th minute, Rowdies striker Amani Walker was left unmarked on a corner and cleanly headed the ball home to give Tampa a 1-0 lead which they carried to the half.  In the 55th minute, defensive confusion let Tampa into goal 1v1 with San Antonio keeper Pat Hannigan.  Hannigan snuffed out the chance, but unfortunately snuffed out the attacker in the same motion, earning a yellow card and a penalty that Tampa’s Georgi Hristov placed neatly in the net for a 2-0 score that would prove to be the final.

San Antonio fans can take heart that Coach Hankinson has pulled this squad together in the past and has a way of making the pieces fit.  The Scorpions started three Eastern European players last night and the style somewhat reflected the remnants of old Soviet soccer.  Hankinson has quite a challenge to meld these players together and give the fans a team worthy of their stadium.

Still, the night was a celebration of soccer and San Antonio.  A privately funded, soccer specific stadium is here.  It is state of the art.  For anyone who has spent time in some second division stadiums in Europe, Toyota Field will bring back memories.  It offers the chance to bond a community of soccer fanatics to their team.  The closeness to the action, the intimate atmosphere, and the quality of the in game experience all bode well for the future of the Scorpions. As NASL Commissioner Bill Peterson, on hand for the opening, said, San Antonio has given the league a vision of the future.  Here’s hoping the Scorpions fulfill that vision.

 

 

Team

1

2

F

San Antonio

0

0

0

Tampa Bay

1

1

2

 

Scoring Summary:
Tampa Bay: Amani Walker – 12th minute (Assisted by Luke Mulholland)
Tampa Bay: Georgi Hristov – 56th minute (Penalty Kick)

Caution Summary:
San Antonio: Pat Hannigan – 55th minute
Tampa Bay: Jay Needham – 61st minute
San Antonio: Pat Phelan – 83rd minute

Tampa Bay:
GK Andrew Fontein; D Frankie Sanfilippo (Captain), D Jay Needham, D Takuya Yamada, D Andres Arango (Keith Savage 45′); M Evans Frimpong, M Luke Mulholland, M Shane Hill, M Raphael Cox; F Amani Walker (Devin Del Do 69′), F Georgi Hristov

San Antonio:
GK Pat Hannigan; D Stephen DeRoux, D Greg Janicki, D Luka Vucko, D Kevin Harmse (Captain); M Walter Ramirez, M Pat Phelan, M Edin Husic, M Hans Denissen; F Lyle Martin (Bryan Jordan 58′) (Esteban Bayona 63′), F Ivan Milicevic (Nikola Vasilic 58′)

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