2014 was a memorable season in San Antonio. The San Antonio Scorpions brought home the NASL Fall Season Championship by a last second goal from captain Adrian Cann. That trophy was quickly followed up by the ultimate prize of the North American Soccer League, the NASL Championship trophy (aka the Soccer Bowl). It was the first soccer championship for the Alamo City, and they'll be looking to defend it in 2015. 2015 will be a new experience for the Scorpions as they will now have the target on their backs; how they deal with the pressure to win will be key to a repeat in 2015. #RedAndBlack2Back
Let's take a look at the transactions that have happened during the off-season.
Who is out?
Who is in?
then I think this year's midfield will be a strong part of the team.
Goalkeeper: Daryl Sattler
Defense: Stephen DeRoux, Julius James
Midfield: Rafael Castillo, Billy Forbes, Richard Menjivar, Josue Soto
Forwards: César Elizondo, Eric Hassli, Tomasz Zahorski
While San Antonio did lose some key defensive players from 2014, I believe that with the additions of Zea and Attakora, our defense should be pretty good. We did lose goalie Josh Saunders to MLS expansion side, NYCFC, but get Daryl Sattler back. Sattler was the NASL Golden Glove winner with SA back it the teams inaugural season. In the deeproot Funds Cup, Sattler was active and showed good movement and had total control over his box. We also have recent U.S. Men's National Team call-up, Jon Kempin, in goal as well. The net will be well protected.
San Antonio does brings back 2014 NASL assists leader, Billy Forbes. This is huge! He led the league last year in assists, with 7, and was instrumental in countless other attacks. He also tallied five goals of his own, none more important than the game-winner in the Soccer Bowl. He already assisted on a goal in the game against FC Dallas. Another huge returnee is Rafael Castillo. You might remember his bicycle kick that opened up the scoring in the Soccer Bowl last year. It made news...He brings experience & leadership to our squad. He will be a great mentor for all of our younger players. That goal gets to me every time...
The midfield should be the strength of this team. The ability to move the ball up the field quickly on counter-attacks will be critical to scoring more this year. Set-pieces should be a strength for this squad as well. And with attackers like Chávez, Elizondo, Palomeque, and now Cummings we should see a more potent attack than we did last year. Can one of these players become that "go-to" guy for goal scoring this year? This will be key to a repeat. Finishing seems to be troublesome for the Scorpions, so converting opportunities when they appear will be crucial.
Defense. The defense had its ups and downs during the pre-season. After the Hill Country Derby, I believe that our defense, specifically our set-piece defense, needs a lot of work. Tsiskaridze needs to be in the midfield, not as a full-back, and I think the guys just need to be together for longer to build the chemistry needed. Once the back line starts to gel, I think this group of players could turn out to be a formidable defense. I do think that during the Spring season, the defense will be a work in progress. Building team chemistry doesn't happen over night, but throughout the Spring, it should build. The talent is definitely there to have an impressive back line.
Familiarity. While we did keep a good portion of our key players, we are bringing in quite a few fresh faces. The experience that those players bring is tremendous, but they haven't had long to play with each other to develop a lot of team chemistry. This was pretty evident in the Hill Country Derby, so more time together will be a necessity.
Once they start to gel with one another, I think this team has the potential to be very special.
Potential starting XI:
Eduar Zea - Nana Attakora - Julius James - Stephen DeRoux
Zourab Tsiskaridze - Josue Soto
Marvin Chávez - Rafael Castillo - Billy Forbes
April 25th - AT Minnesota United
May 2nd - AT Jacksonville Armada
May 23rd - AT New York Cosmos
July 25th - vs Minnesota United
August 15th - AT New York Cosmos
October 10th - AT Indy Eleven
October 17th - AT Ottawa Fury
October 21st - AT Fort Lauderdale Strikers
October 24th - vs New York Cosmos
October 31st - AT Minnesota United
Toyota Field MUST be a fortress! The NASL this year looks to be very strong, and we cannot allow points to be dropped at home. In addition, every game against Minnesota United & the New York Cosmos will be big, especially the away games. If we can leave Blaine & Hempstead with results in the Spring, it will be a big step to claiming the Spring title. Unfortunately, we have to play both United and New York away twice this season while only hosting them once each; those will be crucial.
The month of October will be absolutely brutal as well; it's not the schedule I'd like to go into the post-season with. Three away games in the span of 11 days will be a tough, mental test for our squad, and ending the season vs New York & United could be a blessing in disguise. It would give us the opportunity to make up ground on them if it is the case that we are chasing them in the Fall. It could also be disastrous if we fall a part in those games.
This should be a very competitive year on the field in the NASL. New York is loaded with legend Raúl, Marcos Senna, & former Scorpion Wálter Restrepo; Minnesota has USMNT player, Miguel Ibarra, & 2014 NASL Golden Boot winner Christian Ramirez. My prediction is that Minnesota, New York, and San Antonio will be fighting for the top spot all season long. We also have to be aware of NASL newcomer, Jacksonville Armada FC. While I don't think they are a real threat to win the league, they will definitely make some noise and be troublesome to the three top contenders. Retooled Tampa Bay could be a surprise in the league as well. My prediction is that San Antonio comes out in the middle for the Spring season. We will continue to build chemistry but won't win it. We will gain some steam in the Fall, possibly take the Fall championship, but will be in the playoffs come November. How we play in October will tell us a lot about whether or not this squad can repeat. Although, with the new players added this year, I can also easily see the Scorpions being a middle-of-the-road team the entire year. What cannot happen is to get off to a losing start in either season as it may not be recoverable because of the talent in the league.
Do the Scorpions have a date with destiny to repeat as NASL Champions? I hope so, and it will be fun to watch!
Soccer On! -ASC
First off, congratulations to Minnesota United FC. Just a few years ago the club was on the verge of folding, it became league owned, and now it will ascend to the pinnacle of soccer in America. A true success story. My hope is that one day, hopefully soon, San Antonio will also have its dream realized.
With the team leaving the NASL in the 2018 season, this gives the league some time to find a team to replace MNUnited. But that's not the only issue facing the NASL. The NASL's timeline for having 12 clubs and having a Pacific time-zone presence is fast approaching. According to USSF D2 standards, in year 6 of the league it needs to have 12 teams from coast-to-coast. Commissioner Peterson has said that he would like 18-20 teams by 2018. Without any new announcements regarding new teams in the past year, it seems like that is a lofty goal with such a short time-frame, especially since now the league will be losing Minnesota. For the teams and/or cities I list, I don't know the financial situations of them, so having the financial backing would be an obvious must for any new team to join the NASL. Along with a financially viable ownership, all of these teams would need a stadium that meets D2 standards. So assuming those could be met, here are my list of potential NASL expansion teams/cities:
Los Angeles, CA: Now I know you might be saying, "but there will be 2 MLS teams in one city, no way that could work!" Well, what I will say to that is this: LA is an huge city. Similar to London, it has the potential to have multiple big teams with its own fan bases. If the team in LA can use the Aztec name and logo from the team that played in the original NASL, that could even bring in more supporters who remember and have fond memories of that team. Bringing in legacy names, like the Cosmos, will only do good things for the league. It would give the San Francisco team a regional rivalry within the league and put the NASL in the 2nd largest market in the United States. If an LA team could hit the ground before the new LAFC MLS team in 2017, then it could establish itself as an alternative to the Galaxy and possibly woo former Chivas USA fans who don't know who to support. Unfortunately though, the latest rumors are that the proposed deal for an LA NASL team isn't going well. With no word from the league office, all we have to lean on are rumors and speculations.
San Diego, CA: In keeping with the California theme, adding a team in San Diego could do wonders for the NASL. In addition to the close proximity to LA and San Francisco, the area is under served by American soccer. Tijuana is the closest town with a major soccer team, but it plays in Liga MX. Fans would still be able to support Tijuana while supporting a local team in the U.S. as well.
Detroit, MI: Detroit City FC is an up and coming club that plays in the NPSL and has quickly gained good support from the community. Bringing in an established team with the support already there will make the transition to the NASL that much easier. DCFC would also serve as a regional replacement for Minnesota United and give Indy Eleven a close rival. Plus, they have an AWESOME crest!
Las Vegas, NV: Since Vegas won't be having a MLS team any time soon, might as well show the country that you can support a team in the lower ranks. I'd suggest that the Findlay group put their efforts into building a smaller stadium, without public funds, and join the NASL. [See my post about what LV should do now] I'm sure the the USL will be pushing to establish a team in Sin City if MLS isn't going to. I think that the NASL needs to be proactive in trying to get a foothold further West. Las Vegas can help with that.
My hope is that the league is not sitting around idly as USL and MLS expands while NASL fans sit around hearing nothing about expansion from the league office. With USL wanting D2 status, I don't want there to be any doubt that NASL meets those requirements to stay D2. I don't want to see the NASL be moved to the 3rd tier in the American soccer landscape.
Do you agree with any of my suggestions? Who do you want to see join the NASL? Let me know in the comments!
Speaking of the defense, the entire night it had a hard time coping with the Aztex attack. We couldn't defend set-pieces and our back-line looked like they had only been together for a few weeks. Well, they have. There hasn't been much time for our team, and especially our defense, to build the type of chemistry that is needed to win championships. That's why it is called pre-season. Luckily for us, the NASL season doesn't start until April 4th, so there is time to improve and refine our shape.
All the credit goes to Austin, though. They came out aggressive. They controlled possession for most of the game. Like I said in my preview, if we didn't win the possession game, we'd be in trouble. Their defenders swarmed the ball immediately when a Scorpion touched it and was also in the right place at the right time as a couple shots from San Antonio were deflected by Aztex defenders legs. The Aztex looked like they had it together. They have been in pre-season for over a month now and will start their USL season in just two weeks. This doesn't, however, justify an outing like we saw from our team.
The Scorpions did have a handful of chances to score throughout the game. Billy Forbes, in the first-half, had the Aztex goalie one-on-one on the right side of the net, but shot the ball right at the keeper. It was a bad angle for Forbes, but the left side of the net was open. Missed chance. Elizondo had the next opportunity as he had the keeper beat but his shot at the wide-open net was deflected by the Aztex's Kyle Hoffer. Missed chance. Elizondo also has the next chance, probably the best all night, as he had just the keeper in from of him but shot the ball over the net from inside the 6-yard box. Missed chance. It was that kind of night for our attack, and Coach summed it up perfectly, "we were poor finishing."
The lone bright spot during the game was Rafael Castillo's goal in the 74' minute to make the score 1-4.
I am confident that Coach Marcina and the team will work extra hard in the coming weeks to make sure a game like that doesn't happen again, especially at home. Fans need to remember that this is only pre-season. This is the time that coaches experiment with line-ups, formations, and tactics. While it was not fun to watch, we should not overreact to this one result, especially in the pre-season. Sure, we expected to win a derby at home, but I'm looking forward to the NASL season, where the real hardware counts.
This derby looks like it will become a special rivalry to San Antonio and Austin fans alike. We'll more than likely see Austin again this year in the U.S. Open Cup. My hope is that our team returns the favor and knocks them out of that tournament. For next year, hopefully our team will remember this game, and come out angry to take home the Hill Country Derby in year two.
The Scorpions finish up pre-season on March 28th when they take on the Costa Rican Olympic team (U-23s) at home; game-time is at 7:30pm.
Soccer On -ASC
Welcome to the first ever meeting between the San Antonio Scorpions and the Austin Aztex! Fans of both teams have been waiting for this game to happen! The physical proximity to each other makes this a natural rivalry that will pit two teams separated by 70 miles via I-35. Let's take a look at the teams:
This will be the Scorpions second pre-season game; they defeated MLS side FC Dallas 2-1 in the second annual deeproot Funds Cup two weeks ago. The squad has had more practice time together since then. I expect to see a increase in team cohesion and chemistry especially with the new additions to the team. The two biggest questions marks that I still have about the team are the back line and our goal scoring finishing. I was at practice on Wednesday and saw that Julius James looked healthy. He had come out of the Dallas game in the middle of the first half with what looked to be a leg injury. Having James and DeRoux play together along with newcomers Zea and Attakora will be crucial in order to make our defense one of the best in the NASL again. Up top I'm going to be looking for more goals. Palomenque and Elizondo scored in the Dallas game. I'll be looking for more from them and to see what World Cup player Marvin Chávez can add to our attack.
This will be the first trip for the Aztex to Toyota Field and will be looking to take down their rivals to the South. The Aztex have already been in full pre-season mode for a few weeks now as they hosted the first ATX Pro Challenge that included MLS sides Columbus Crew, D.C. United, and FC Dallas. The Aztex went 0-2 in both their games. They weren't able to put a goal on the scoreboard and allowed 3 goals that weekend. You can read my analysis of the ATX Pro Challenge games, including the Aztex's here: match day 1 & match day 2.
I haven't really kept up with their pre-season games, but San Antonio fans will see a couple familiar faces in the opposition. Former Scorpions Leone Cruz, Sainey Touray, & Trevin Cesar signed with the Aztex this off-season and will probably see playing time against their former team. The Aztex also just signed form MLS forward, Kris Tyrpak. He played for the Aztex in 2012 & 2013 before being drafted by the now defunct Chivas USA of MLS.
In full disclosure I have not seen the Aztex play since the ATX Pro Challenge. In those games, Austin lost possession fairly easily and looked lost in the attacking third. They had spurts of possession where they looked dangerous but couldn't convert. San Antonio needs to dominate possession, if we do that, I believe that they will win the inaugural Hill Country Derby. Our back line should be able to exert itself on the Aztex forwards and with Sattler in goal, it will be tough for any opponent to score. We cannot lose focus though. If we let down our guard during the game, it could spell trouble for the home squad.
This should be a fun game to watch. Eberly’s Army, the Aztex's largest supporter's group, will be making the drive down to San Antonio. Add in the always chanting Crocketteers, El Veneno, and Bexar County Casuals and the atmosphere should be rocking as both sides want to claim their stake for Central Texas supremacy.
Game starts at 7:30pm tomorrow, Saturday March 14th, at Toyota Field. Come on out to support your Scorpions!
See you there!
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