This year, local soccer fans got the exciting news that five teams are set to compete this summer in San Antonio. With the city being inundated by five women’s teams, how will this impact the product on field and the market? Unsurprisingly, the reactions have been mixed: excited, ready, shocked, disbelieving, dismissive, and the rest of the gamut.
To set the foundation, the five teams include San Antonio Athenians SC playing in UWS, Samba FC San Antonio playing in UPSL, San Antonio Blossoms in WPSL, Alamo City SC in WPSL, Alamo City SC Reserves playing in UPSL. Outside a possible scrimmage, there will not be a chance to see all the teams play each other. There will be side conversations and podcasts about who is the best based on player qualifications and selection, coaches and their pedigree, level of competition, and whether the team won anything in their region, conference, or league.
After the buzz around announcing the teams started to die down, questions started to arise. “Will this dilute the player pool?” “Will five teams oversaturate the market?” The easy answer to these questions is a booming NO! This is San Antonio, and questioning the capacity for expansion is a small town mentality. No one asks those questions as men’s teams continue to pop up. Last summer San Antonio had four men’s teams spring up: Samba FC San Antonio, San Antonio Runners, FC Boerne Thunder, and Major Academy. This season, San Antonio Corinthians and Alamo City SC will be joining the UPSL. Major Academy is not playing this season. If this city can support 6 men’s teams, why not multiple women’s teams? Is it a question of popularity? One wonders if anyone keeps stats on attendance. The 2017 Athenians game against Pachuca speaks for itself with attendance of 2,000-3,000, exceeding more than the most heavily attended recent amateur men’s matches. With the USWNT participating in the World Cup this year there will be a spike in interest and participation. The men’s game did not benefit from that influx last summer with the USMNT absence from the tournament.
San Antonio is one of the largest cities in Texas and the country. Recent statistics have San Antonio pass Dallas in population: Houston 2.3 million, San Antonio 1.52 million, Dallas 1.3 million, and Austin 950,000 (http://worldpopulationreview.com/states/texas-population/). With a population this size, San Antonio has a major league market able to support multiple teams. In terms of women’s teams, here’s how south Texas cities stack up: Houston has 4 WPSL teams, 1 UPSL team, 2 UWS teams, 1 NWSL team; Austin has 1 WPSL team, 1 UPSL team, and 1 UWS team; and now San Antonio has 2 WPSL teams, 1 UWS team, and 2 UPSL teams. The number of teams is reflective of the growing size of the city and interest in soccer. This is a moment where San Antonio can be proud and measure how far it has come.
With the geographic size of San Antonio, fans must consider travel time when making plans. The teams have game fields with accessibility to several parts of the city, making it convenient to see a game. The easier it is to see a game, the more likely fans will come out and bring their families. In northwest San Antonio, Alamo City SC plays at Culebra Creek/Alamo Sportsplex. Samba plays their games at Wheatley Heights Sports Complex just east of downtown. Blossoms are north central at Blossom Athletic Center. The Athenians are north central, but just outside the 1604 loop at Cornerstone Christian School’s Warrior Stadium. There will be fans who travel to see all the teams or a few of their favorites play, the dedicated and the passionate. Most will draw the attendance from their local community in conjunction with if a youth team is associated with them. The teams are also doing more things to draw fans in: food trucks, supporters groups, tailgates, music, and international friendlies.
More teams will also increase player retention which addresses the question of diluting the talent level. Players are diverse and look for teams that meet their needs, area of town, and style of play. With several teams, each player will be able to find a team that matches them. There is an untapped player pool with the college market. We have multiple colleges in the area to recruit from. There are players that went away to college to play and come back ineligible to play for their club teams due to age. There is also a large group of players who haven’t heard about the women’s amateur teams. As a growing city people are relocating here who played in college in other states. More players will come out as teams are fortified. They will identify with a team and attend tryouts. Last summer a few of the areas’ best players went to Houston and Austin in the absence of a team that met their needs. For example, the Campa sisters played for Tti when the Athenians went on hiatus. Hopefully, that talent returns and finds a team to play on in San Antonio.
The phrase “iron sharpens iron” is appropriate for this situation. Having a variety of teams in the area will force the teams to stay competitive. Social media makes it easy to know what the other teams are doing and who they are signing. When there is one team in a city, there is reliance on the premise that players will come to you. Teams will be forced to hold more tryouts to find more players. To find better players. Players for the teams will also start to do some recruiting on their own to make sure they are playing with the best. Continuing to develop up and coming talent will heighten their soccer knowledge and ability, leading to a better on field product. The Blossoms had a number of young players growing with the level of play over last season. Coming into this season, they will be better prepared; attendees should expect to see them take it to the next level. Every year these teams compete will see continued growth and development by the players, coaches, and organizations.
Five teams may initially raise some eyebrows, especially since the perception is it happened overnight. Five teams in a growing city, one of the largest in the country, is to be embraced, celebrated even. Pride in each team and in our city should be the result of this growth. Five teams is a worthy advancement for the city of San Antonio. This summer will raise the level of competitive play in women’s amateur soccer in the city, and the fans of soccer will be among the beneficiaries.