SAN ANTONIO – A possible preview of future MLS matchups took place Saturday night, as a sellout crowd of 8,000 fans watched FC Dallas play the San Antonio Scorpions to a 1-1 draw in the NASL team's stadium. For a team looking to make the step up, the combination of an interested owner, capable venue and energetic fanbase could be key to making San Antonio's MLS dream a reality.
Scorpions president and general manager Howard Cornfield believes his club has put itself into position for MLS expansion consideration by building a stadium in Toyota Field that some MLS clubs would be envious of and, more importantly, can be expanded to a capacity of 18,500. Established, passionate soccer fanbases for lower-division teams in Seattle, Portland, Vancouver, Montreal and more recently Orlando have been key in establishing those cities as MLS-ready markets.
“If this is going to happen, it’s going to have to be fan-driven,” Cornfield told MLSsoccer.com in his suite before the match. “[Owner] Gordon Hartman’s already shelled out close to $40 million on soccer in this community in the last three years. So, this has to be a community effort. Everybody’s got to become a partner if this is going to happen.”
A Scorpions supporters group, The Crocketeers, have started a petition to show support for MLS expansion that has almost 3,000 signatures and the club even has the makings of their own celebrity ambassador – a la Toronto FC’s Drake – in television star Eva Longoria.
The Scorpions sold 3,040 season tickets last season and expect to exceed that number for 2014. The club was profitable last year and has corporate sponsorship that is, “better than outstanding,” according to Cornfield. The NBA’s San Antonio Spurs are currently the only professional or major college team in the area, so it is a market ripe with potential.
“We’re bullish on the market. We’re bullish on what we have here,” said Cornfield. “I think as we continue to show people what we’re about and what we do right, I think we’re going to get a lot of attention.”
MLS Commissioner Don Garber visited San Antonio last month and met with Hartman in what Cornfield called, “a very preliminary discussion.” Garber has previously stated that the league wants any future potential expansion teams to have a downtown stadium and that, “It’s hard to imagine that we would go into a market where we don’t have that scenario.”
Toyota Field is located in northeast San Antonio about 20 minutes from downtown and the city’s famed river walk. It is, however, less than a mile off Interstate 35, the major north-south artery for the city, and Cornfield says there is no plan to look at stadium sites closer to downtown.
“This will be the location,” Cornfield said when asked about MLS’ downtown preference. “The access to the stadium is very good, people know where it’s at … we think it’s a good central spot for our community. I can’t see where our stadium location would be considered a negative in any way.”