On April 6, 1968 San Antonio officials opened the doors on what was then known as the Convention Center Arena. As part of the collection of new construction that helped San Antonio remake it’s downtown core and host Hemisfair ’68, what would come to be known as Hemisfair Arena was a bit of a speculative venture. There was, after all, no regular tenant to call Hemisfair Arena home.
After five years of waiting, however, the speculation paid off. In October of 1973, the newly minted Spurs (who had previously been known as the Dallas Chaparrals) of the American Basketball Association (ABA) set up shop in San Antonio. Although the Spurs got off to an inauspicious start, losing to the San Diego Conquistadors in front of a half-empty arena, the foundation had been laid for what has now become a nearly 40-year journey of civic pride and sporting success.
History often repeats itself and those with enough gumption to pay attention can occasionally see such repeats on the horizon.
On February 29th, ground will be broken on Scorpions Stadium, the future soccer-specific home of San Antonio Scorpions FC, the Gordon Hartman owned NASL franchise that starts play in April. The stadium will have 6,100 seats and be the first of a potential five-phase plan (Phase I – Phase V), which could see the stadium grow to accommodate over 18,000 spectators for top-flight soccer.
The Scorpions will begin play this year at adjacent Heroes Stadium, a high school football venue. It is, admittedly, not ideal. No soccer fan will gush over a game played on an American football field where area 15 year-olds miss tackles and kick field goals. Some might consider such an inauspicious beginning troubling, but those with an eye for history might think twice. San Antonio sports fans know a bit about such beginnings and the possibilities that exist just a few years down the line. Forty years of championship celebrations and exhilarating entertainment make the early ABA days seem like fond family memories no matter how many empty seats and air-balls there were.
No matter the trajectory of the Scorpions, one thing is certain: San Antonio will have a first-class soccer-specific venue in which to enjoy the beautiful game in 2013. The NASL Scorpions will call it home and San Antonio’s soccer supporters, especially those of us who proudly call ourselves Crocketteers, will claim it as our own as well.
But what of the future, of that trajectory that compels the franchise to plan for “Phase V”? What about the long-term prospects for something even more substantial, for MLS in San Antonio?
In June of 1976, the ABA merged with the more successful and more stable National Basketball Association. The NBA absorbed several ABA teams with strong ownership and viable arenas serving as two of the key qualifying factors.
One can only hope that the Spurs experience can be replicated, that perhaps 8 years after finishing the new Scorpions Stadium, a call from the preeminent American soccer league, MLS, might ensue. The Scorpions certainly boast of strong ownership and with the dirt ready to turn on the new stadium, the viability of the local side’s grounds will not be in question.
It is that new stadium that has the soccer community buzzing. The 6100 seat Phase I alone would be enough to send tears of joy down the fervent supporters cheeks. To have a home for the sport is to have legitimacy and stability. But drying the tears of Phase I in order to be able to clearly gaze on the renderings of Phase V of the Scorpions Stadium project, complete with a major league number of seats and suites, is enough to absolutely send chills down the spine. What if…
Perhaps those heady days are ahead. The Scorpions have so far shown to be willing to back up every bold pronouncement they make, wowing the faithful and converting the skeptics. After an appetizing year at Heroes Stadium, the 2013 San Antonio Scorpions will launch into an entirely new era of San Antonio soccer.
At the very least, San Antonio will have entered the soccer scene with legitimacy and an eye peering towards a bright future. In our wildest dreams? San Antonio will be one step closer to Phase V, to national soccer prominence, and to the top-flight MLS aspirations that so many, including Gordon Hartman, believe are in the Scorpions future.
It all begins when the first shovel turns dirt on February 29th, 2012.