The thrill of cup play, whether it’s the FA Cup or the lesser known and appreciated US Open Cup, is the potential for upset. Lower division, and even amateur sides, can knock off top flight, top division squads if all the stars align. The peril of cup play, is to be one of those higher tiered teams eliminated by rank amateurs. Last year the upstart San Antonio Scorpions eliminated the mighty Houston Dynamo from the U.S. Open Cup. Last night, on a muggy, overcast evening, the Scorpions tasted the sting, and were eliminated on penalties by amateur PDL squad FC Tucson. Despite the threat of severe weather, the match was completed without even a sprinkle of rain. That statement sums up the positives for the Scorpions. After gaining their first league win (against two losses and two ties) last Saturday, the Scorpions fell flat in a lethargic and disorganized effort. This was a costly loss, both in respect and in the pocketbook. A win would have given the Scorpions the chance to host MLS power Houston Dynamo in their new stadium, assuring a full house and a cash infusion for the club. Instead, their cup run ends before it really began, and the Scorpions return to the field to complete their spring season. Given the level of play thus far, avoiding the cellar may be the loftiest goal this squad can realistically achieve.
The opening half looked promising initially for San Antonio. Against the lower pressure of their PDL opponent, the Scorpions held the ball well, although most of the possession was harmless play around the back. In the 30th minute, however, San Antonio earned a corner and captain Kevin Harmse finished the header from Walter Ramirez’s service to give the Scorpions a 1-0 lead. However, the signs of impending trouble were showing early. FC Tucson with no player older than 23 years of age, was more energetic throughout the match. They countered well and quickly, and the Scorpions seemed almost dismissive of any potential threat that could result. On several occasions in the first half, FC Tucson players were permitted to carry the ball with impunity toward the Scorpion’s net. San Antonio consistently failed to pressure the ball even as their opponents advanced to central positions within 25 yards of goal. Several off target shots spared the Scorpions from any damage, but the consistent lack of pressure hinted at the potential danger to come. Still at the half time whistle, San Antonio went to the locker room with a 1-0 lead and a chance to regroup and realize they were in a match with an opponent determined to do more than make an appearance.
The opening whistle of the second half brought the best efforts at meaningful possession from San Antonio. For the first two minutes, crisp passes to mobile midfielders created chances to extend the Scorpion lead. Despite the promise of the start, though, the Scorpions again degenerated to apparent boredom, as supporting players failed to move or adjust to help their teammates play out of pressure. Possession was constantly lost as the attackers failed to make early decisions and then found themselves with no help when pressured. Tucson, on the other hand, continued to counter well. Then, as if foreshadowed in a novel, the lack of defensive pressure cost the home team. In the 55th minute, Tucson’s undersized but persistent forward Ricardo Velasco found the ball at his feet with time and space 25 yards from goal. A quick strike rocketed past Scorpion keeper Jeremy Vuolo, and the match was level. Tucson was energized while San Antonio appeared only mildly perplexed. FC Tucson coach, Rick Schantz, had clearly identified the opportunity and his squad exploited it. ““We were very surprised that when we ran at them and got behind their midfield four and ran at their back four, they kind of retreated as a group and let us come at them.” said Schantz. San Antonio made no half time adjustments and a wily Tucson squad made them pay.
As deflating as the equalizer was, the turning point in the match was likely the 60th minute substitution of Stephen DeRoux for starter Lyle Martin at right back. Martin has been a bulwark for the Scorpion defense all season, and the early exit would prove costly to the Scorpions. DeRoux’s first touches of the match were poor and his marking spotty, but his lackadaisical approach to the match was to prove disastrous in the 67th minute. With San Antonio safely in possession, DeRoux drifted slowly out to the right touchline about 40 yards from the Scorpion’s goal. Apparently forgetting lessons taught to 15 year old rec players, DeRoux never opened up to the field and received the ball facing his own goal. Never checking the space behind him, DeRoux nonetheless received a pass with a sloppy and exposed first touch, as FC Tucson dynamo Connor Brandt, a 20 year old, 155 pound college sophomore closed him down from behind, took the ball off his feet, and quickly pushed up the field. After finding Connor Bevans, Saeed Robinsin took a perfect pass and slotted it away for a 2-1 Tuscon lead.
DeRoux struggled the remainder of the match, losing challenge after challenge, giving away possession and generally leading fans to wonder why a professional defender would be so overmatched by amateur competition. A deeper inquiry might examine what the state of the Scorpion’s roster is, if DeRoux is your first defensive substitute.
Although the Scorpions leveled the match is stoppage time with a penalty equalizer from substitute Hans Dennissen, the reprieve was temporary. Despite several opportunities in overtime, San Antonio failed to finish and the match went to penalty kicks. Misses by Pat Phelan, who played an otherwise active and enthusiatic match, and captain Kevin Harmse sealed the fate of the Scorpions. FC Tucson eliminated the Scorpions in a match that left the fans wondering what the remainder of the season will hold. After trimming salary and bringing in low cost eastern European players who were out of contract, the Scorpions sit just shy of bottom of the league and make an early cup exit. Scorpions coach Tim Hankinson stated the obvious in his post-match comments. “Our lack of intensity throughout the game and lack of effectiveness was just inexcusable. Our players should be ashamed of the performance they put in.”
The Scorpions travel to Atlanta this weekend to face the Silverbacks. They return to Toyota Field on June 1 for a match with Minnesota United FC.