Five storylines for the first Central Texas Derby

This weekend brings us the first matchup between San Antonio FC and Austin Bold FC, the Central Texas Derby.

A new chapter in Central Texas soccer history will begin on Saturday night when San Antonio FC travels just a couple of hours up I-35 to visit Austin Bold FC in the first-ever match between the two clubs.

Although just one match with the same rules, same three points on the line, etc, there are a number of storylines which will affect the way the match is approached as well as be affected by the match itself.

Slow Starts

So far in 2019, SAFC and Austin have combined for just two draws and three losses in their first few matches. Although it’s early, both sides are just above the bottom of the standings and will want to get things turned around sooner rather than later.

A match between two natural geographic rivals like this may be the perfect thing to kick start either team’s season. At the very least, it should get both sets of players and certainly, their fanbases, fired up, lighting a flame which could inspire results in future matches, if not this one.

SAFC Head Coach Darren Powell and goalkeeper Matt Cardone were both adamant in saying this isn’t a vastly different game despite the rivalry element, so they have been preparing for it like any other.

As for the opposition, Powell said Austin has a talented group of players who are still building chemistry, having additional ground to cover as a new team. He certainly remembers when SAFC were in the same position three years ago, and that team eventually clicked and found some rhythm that year, so Powell isn’t taking anything for granted.

Image: Darren Abate, USL

Familiar Faces

While Austin’s players are still getting used to each other, SAFC will recognize a few from past years. Forward Kris Tyrpak, midfielder Sonny Guadarrama, and goalkeeper Diego Restrepo were all with SAFC as recently as last season but have all found their way (in Tyrpak’s case, via Miami and Nashville) up to Austin for 2019, and all have played in both matches for Austin so far.

“Austin has some familiar faces for us, (they) all played and did very well in San Antonio, so it’ll be good to see those guys again,” Powell said at practice Tuesday.

In particular, Tyrpak and Restrepo especially made significant contributions in their SAFC stints which lasted from the start of the 2017 season into or through 2018. Tyrpak scored seven goals and assisted four in 33 appearances with SAFC, often showcasing his skill on the wings and being involved in some important goals and moments for the club.

Restrepo revived his career in 2017 as he came in for preseason and made the SAFC roster then locked down the starting spot early on after Cardone was sidelined with an injury. The goalkeeper went on to lead the USL with 12 shutouts, was second in the league with a 0.8 goals-against average, and his 76.4 save percentage was the highest of any player with more than 2,000 minutes in the regular season. For his accomplishments as part of the USL’s stingiest defense in 2017, Restrepo was named Goalkeeper of the Year and made the All-League First Team.

Both players saw their stars fade in San Antonio in 2018 though, with Tyrpak leaving just over a month into the season and Restrepo performing decently but suddenly plagued by much shakier defending in front of him, leading to noticeable frustration, on and off the pitch. Guadarrama, who joined in 2018, had a run in the team early in the season but eventually fell out of favor and became a squad player.

Tyrpak and Guadarrama are Austin natives, so they’ll feel an extra sense of pride pulling on the shirt at home against anybody, and you could argue all three players will want to prove something to SAFC.

Image: Darren Abate, USL

New Stadium

Everybody’s inaugural season is a parade of firsts, and the big one heading into Saturday is Austin’s inaugural home match in their self-titled stadium at the Circuit of the Americas. Surely, they’ll want to open their stadium with a good result, especially against their rivals from just south.

Although Bold Stadium is Austin’s “home” stadium, it may not actually be home yet. Austin held an event there for season ticket members Wednesday night, at least giving them some familiarity with the venue before Saturday, but until both the club and fans alike have a few games there, they haven’t made it their venue yet.

Because of that, what will likely be a large cohort of traveling SAFC fans will have the opportunity to hijack the atmosphere, at least for this inaugural home match.

“Our fans will make themselves heard in Austin’s stadium, I’m sure,” Powell said. “We just ask that they get behind the team and give them the energy like we have in Toyota Field. When we played in Las Vegas last year, our traveling support was fantastic – if we can replicate that in Austin’s stadium on Saturday night, that will certainly help and inspire our players.”

Austin only gets one inaugural home opener, so they’ll want to mark it with as good of a performance and result as possible, but SAFC will have no better chance to spoil the occasion and hijack the atmosphere. The next time SAFC comes to Bold Stadium, Austin and their fans will have settled in and owned the environment.

Image: Austin Bold FC

Old History

While this will be the first time professional San Antonio and Austin soccer teams have a league match to play against each other, it wasn’t too long ago two other pro teams from the cities squared off.

In 2015, the Austin Aztex of USL and San Antonio Scorpions of NASL played once in the preseason and again in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, both at Toyota Field in San Antonio and both wins for Austin.

The first match, a friendly in March as both teams prepared for their seasons, ended 4-1 to the visitors, giving Austin an early leg up in the rivalry, though it was only a friendly. The Aztex firmly established their superiority just a couple months later though as they beat the Scorpions 2-0 – in San Antonio, remember – in the third round of the 2015 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.

Those matches may seem like ancient history now, especially with both teams no longer in existence, but there are a couple of ways in which they carry more relevance these days than you may think. For one, a few players on both sides have come full-circle as Tyrpak lined up for the Aztex back then while Cardone and midfielders Billy Forbes and Rafa Castillo donned Scorpions jerseys at the time and SAFC kits now.

Additionally, supporters of San Antonio and Austin soccer stick around through various teams. The preseason match inspired the Crocketteers from San Antonio and Eberly’s Army from Austin to start the Queso Bowl, a competition which has had multiple chapters with different teams in different leagues.

Image: Jonathan Check

MLS

The Scorpions and Aztex created a past for the Central Texas Derby, SAFC and Austin Bold FC are now the present…and MLS – or lack thereof – is a big part of the future.

San Antonio has been pursuing MLS for at least 15 years now, with negotiations being scrapped in the mid-2000s, the Scorpions expressing interest even before their 2012 kickoff and SAFC making the dream look more realistic when they took over in 2016.

Austin, on the other hand, suddenly cut in front of San Antonio and everybody in line for a new MLS franchise and is set to join the league in 2021. It was the culmination of the bitter #SavetheCrew saga because of how Anthony Precourt had been working to move his MLS franchise to Austin and suddenly abandon Columbus.

That saga, which ended with Columbus Crew SC getting to stay while Precourt still gets his Austin team, leaves a bitter taste in the mouths of San Antonians in particular. The existence of Austin FC doesn’t completely eliminate the chance of SAFC making the jump to MLS, but it certainly damages the chances to have another team so close.

“It’s going to bring some extra intensity to the rivalry,” Cardone said of the matter at practice Tuesday. “It’s going to raise the support from both the away fans and the home fans, so we’re just going to play up to the intensity of the game.”

You may be asking yourself: Why does it matter – what has Austin Bold done to irk SAFC fans?

The answer is right there: “Austin.” San Antonio fans aren’t particularly fond of anything related to Austin soccer right now, regardless of how far removed it may be from the MLS team.

When SAFC supporters were asked roughly a month ago about where El Paso Locomotive FC ranked among SAFC’s rivals, a couple of people mentioned Austin Bold FC as being one of the biggest because of the bad blood caused by the MLS saga, even though Bold FC’s hands are clean on that matter. It may be a bit harsh, but SAFC fans aren’t discriminating and Bold fans may unjustly feel their wrath.

It will certainly be interesting to see what Saturday’s match adds to these storylines while being the start of something new itself. Some things, like a slow start to the season or opening a new stadium, will come and go soon enough, but with something like the MLS saga and the ensuing bitterness, this is by no means going to be the last word.

 

Featured image: Darren Abate, USL

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