Scheduling in the USL is a monumental task, as the league figures out logistics for 29 teams spread throughout the United States and Canada without the luxury of chartered flights.
The league had no idea about the stroke of luck it encountered when it released the USL schedule in January, before San Antonio FC officially had a team name.
San Antonio was booked for a home-and-home matchup against the OKC Energy, with a game in Oklahoma City on May 15 and at Toyota Field on May 21. The upcoming games happen to fall while the Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder are facing off in the NBA Western Conference Playoffs.
Will an NBA rivalry bleed over into soccer? SAFC managing director Tim Holt says “absolutely.”
“I think you often see rivalries cut across different sports and even from college to the pros,” Holt said. “When you think Texas and Oklahoma, you think of college football. Now we have Spurs-Thunder too, and now we hope to bring soccer to that border rivalry.”
SAFC will be taking a seven-hour bus ride to Oklahoma City for Sunday’s game at 7 p.m., which will be streaming live on SanAntonioFC.com. Tickets are also available for the 7:30 p.m. May 21 game at Toyota Field on SanAntonioFC.com
If last week’s South Texas Derby against the RGV Toros was any indication, rivalry games take the intensity of USL soccer up a few notches.
SAFC and RGV combined for five goals in the final 25 minutes, as RGV pulled out a 3-2 victory with a goal in extra time. As SAFC currently sits mid-table in the Western Conference with eight points, the next two matches against Oklahoma City could catapult the team near the top.
While Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook won’t be on the pitch, there’s still plenty of rooting interest in a soccer version of the Red River Rivalry. The Spurs-Thunder rivalry and their three playoff series in five years has created a relationship between San Antonio and Oklahoma City that soccer supporters said extends past basketball.
OKC Energy owners were so enthusiastic about San Antonio joining the USL that they attended a press conference at Toyota Field when San Antonio’s team was announced.
“Spurs-Thunder is one of the best rivalries in the NBA, and I hope we can build something like that,” said OKC Energy President Jeff Ewing. “We look forward to seeing that rivalry translate to soccer as well.”
SAFC players including Carlos Alvarez and Bobby Moseley have also prepped for the rivalry by attending a Spurs-Thunder game last week.
As San Antonio is currently painted Silver & Black for the Spurs, Holt said civic pride is a fundamental element SAFC and most soccer teams. Holt said SAFC has embraced aspects of San Antonio’s identity such as its role as Military City USA, as a family-oriented city and the character of keeping community kindness in one of the nation’s largest cities.
“Soccer is tribal,” Holt said. “It lends itself to fierce geographical rivalries, and there’s just a different level of gravitas in a derby or a match with a bordering state. I think it goes to how the game developed organically around the world. It was always about cities and towns and villages.”
Expect “Go Spurs Go” and “Thunder Up” chants to turn into “S-A-F-C” and whatever one chooses to chant regarding Energy. Expect noise from SAFC fans in Oklahoma City as well. About 30 fans made the trip to Seattle for the SAFC opener, and many said they’re looking forward to road trips.
SAFC received some visiting fans from Tulsa when it beat the Roughnecks on April 30, and RGV had about 100 supporters at last week’s game.
“Traveling to road games is part of the soccer experience,” said Crocketteers President James Hope. “Going on the road and making noise as a united group in another team’s stadium is how supporters groups become known.”