Three New Things to Know Ahead of the Athenians Season Opener

San Antonio Athenians SC were trailblazers when they came onto the scene in 2017, setting the standard for semi-professional women’s soccer in San Antonio. They had a strong inaugural season on the field in the Women’s Premier Soccer League, brought multiple Mexican teams to Blossom Athletic Center for international friendlies and drew thousands of people to their matches.

In 2019, they’re returning from a one-year hiatus but some things still haven’t changed. They already brought in Pumas UNAM for a preseason friendly in March and have teased other such matches after the league season. They also continue to be visible in the San Antonio community and create lots of buzz, picking up right where they left off two years ago – what would you expect from a team whose owner runs a marketing firm?

“Fundamentally, we are what we were before,” owner Pete Veras said this week while overseeing practice, doing everything from filming the action from the press box to buying ice for ice baths. Veras’ place at the top of the organization is another holdover from the Athenians’ inception.

Change is inevitable though, and the same holds true for the Athenians. For example, while they were the trailblazers two years ago, they are now one of six semi-pro women’s teams in the area. Whether you were a diehard Athenians fan two years ago or this is your first time hearing about them, it’s worth knowing some of the new things before their 2019 season starts on Saturday.

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New stadium: Cibolo Multi-Event Center

Perhaps the most obvious change at Athenians matches will be a new venue in Cibolo, northeast of San Antonio. As the venue’s name suggests, it is part of a larger complex just like Blossom Athletic Center’s soccer stadium, where the Athenians played in 2017.

Similar to Blossom, Cibolo’s stadium has a natural grass surface, small press box and space for a few thousand fans. One major difference between the venues though is how those 4,000 seats are distributed. Whereas Blossom had one large stand on one sideline, the Athenians’ new home has just a few rows of bleachers around most of the field, making for a much more intimate setting with all fans close to the action.

Cibolo Multi Event Center
Image: Google Earth

The Athenians will not only be playing their league and friendly matches at that stadium but also looking to have their own youth camps and eventually US Soccer Girls Development Academy teams putting the venue to good use. Both Veras and Stosh Boyle, the mayor of Cibolo, envision a long-term partnership between the club and city which will entertain residents and visitors, showcase positive role models, provide increased commerce for local businesses, etc.

New league: United Women’s Soccer

A more subtle change, the Athenians will now be playing in the UWS, a league founded in late 2015 now in its fourth season which is roughly equivalent to the WPSL the Athenians played in two years ago. The UWS has had some fluctuation when it comes to the number of teams involved and how they are divided regionally, but the best they can do is try to attract and retain the best clubs to at least have a firm foundation.

The Athenians will be competing in the UWS’s Southwest Conference which has just four teams this season, half the number of teams in the Eastern Conference, the league’s largest. Having less competition won’t make things easier though as the Athenians will have to play the reigning UWS champion Houston Aces, starting with their inaugural home match on Saturday.

“Houston Aces won the whole shebang last year, so it’s going to be a pretty intense game. They play really fast and it’s going to be our first real game together but we’ve been working hard, it’s all been coming together.”

– Michelle Hogan, Athenians defender and captain, on the Blue Collar Sports Dad Show

Houston outscored their opponents 56-4 on the road to becoming champions last year, and they’ve already defeated the other two teams in the conference, El Paso Surf and FC Austin Elite, by 8-0 and 1-0 scorelines, respectively, in 2019.

If one of those teams sounds familiar, it’s because the Athenians played FC Austin Elite in the 2017 WPSL season, winning 2-1 away then 4-1 at home. Those triumphs brought the Queso Bowl, a trophy given to the supporters group of whichever team wins when Austin and San Antonio soccer teams square off in a meaningful soccer match, back to San Antonio for a change.

One final note about the switch to UWS is it comes with a league-wide streaming partner in MyCujoo. It’s still semi-pro soccer so the broadcast quality will vary, but any stream is better than none. If anybody remembers the early days of the modern North American Soccer League when matches were produced team-by-team on Ustream, it seems similar to that.

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New squad (Surprise! 😜)

It’s very rare for teams to keep the same squad intact for multiple years, especially in lower leagues and when you take a gap year as the Athenians did. Therefore, it’s par for the course they’ll have some new players in 2019.

To be fair, Hogan, Treena Ferguson, Jessica Bell, Allison Fahey, Kelly Lochte and Nikki Popa are set to return to the team, providing some on-field memory of the club’s trailblazing two years ago. While other members of that original Athenians team have stayed in San Antonio, some have moved to other teams as the Athenians now have competition when it comes to uniting the best talent.

Hannah Player, for example, has joined Samba FC’s women’s team. Former Mexican national team player Isa Valdez, who the Athenians even announced as a player for 2019 in February, has now popped up in a San Antonio Sporti FC kit instead.

The show must go on though, and the Athenians have brought in some talented players to bolster the squad and give them not only depth off the bench but competition for starting spots. Forward Briana Woodall and defender Alejandra Melchor have represented Mexico and Colombia, respectively, at the U-17 level. Woodall’s Sam Houston State University teammate Carlota Suarez Crespo will join her in attack, along with 2018 All-District 26-6A Forward of the Year and Express-News All-Area Team selection Ashton Foytik.

The Athenians may not be your only San Antonio semi-pro women’s soccer option anymore, but they still do what they can to stand out from the crowd. They’re not the same club they were in 2017 either, making some big changes, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be just as intriguing to watch the second time around.

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