SAFC, El Paso supporters on a potential rivalry: Meh.

The number of Texas teams in the USL Championship has suddenly doubled for 2019 as newcomers El Paso Locomotive FC and Austin Bold FC join San Antonio FC and Rio Grande Valley FC, both entering their fourth seasons.

Texas is no stranger to rivalries developing between their competing sports teams. The three NBA teams, for example, form the “Texas Triangle” and games against each other mean a bit more to fans. Even in soccer, MLS’ FC Dallas and Houston Dynamo have a few matches a year to compete for El Capitan, a replica cannon indicating which team reigned supreme.

While SAFC and RGVFC have contested the South Texas Derby in USL by themselves for three years, the additions of Austin and El Paso in 2019 present an opportunity for expanded Texas rivalries – but it seems the latter may be the odd team out.

Speaking to SAFC’s fans, a rather unscientific Twitter survey about if they considered El Paso a regional rival drew various responses, but a few things came up repeatedly.

They said El Paso, for now at least, is a secondary rival for SAFC. The rivalry with RGVFC which has been fueled both by sharing Texas and heated encounters on the pitch will take priority, and Bold FC will get dirty looks they may not even deserve because they’re from Austin…San Antonio soccer fans don’t like Austin right now.

After those two, fans said El Paso may be on par with Oklahoma City Energy FC, a team which has been a constant thorn in SAFC’s side and is a regional rival – and actually closer to SAFC than El Paso.

It also hurts a potential Texas rivalry that El Paso is just so far away despite being in the same state. The two teams are a whopping 557 miles apart, which would be an eight-hour car ride, plus they’re in a different time zone…they may as well be in a different state, and they almost are.

However, some SAFC fans do see potential for a rivalry. Like with any two teams, fierce encounters on the pitch or regular banter between supporters could spark it.

Perhaps the best hope for making El Paso a rival for the other Texas teams would be to get some sort of mini-league going among them, which would likely be kickstarted by the supporters. Actually, now that you mention it…

The Crocketteers are no strangers to formalizing a rivalry, having started the Queso Bowl with Eberly’s Army, an Austin supporters group, in 2015. Unfortunately, opportunities for the two cities’ teams to square off have been limited as the Austin Aztex and San Antonio Scorpions FC only contested a friendly and US Open Cup match, both of which Austin won before both teams folded at the end of the season.

That was beyond their control. Now, with SAFC and RGVFC having stuck around and two other teams in the mix, it seems easier for there to be some form of Texas rivalry. As long as there are fans in at least a couple of the cities to spur it on – and it seems there are – then a more formalized Texas competition could get the green light.

Instead of a rival though, a couple SAFC fans think the new club in El Paso could be more like a brother, even considering it their second team. El Paso’s general manager, Andrew Forrest, spent multiple years with the Scorpions in various roles helping get pro soccer in the city off to a good start. Even with Forrest and the Scorpions both gone from San Antonio now, those fans who knew him still wish him well.

If SAFC fans’ feelings are lukewarm about starting a rivalry with this new Texas team though, then El Pasoans are room-temperature.

On their recent inaugural episode, the members of Seriously Loco, a podcast covering El Paso, were asked to address the possibility of a Texas rivalry by listener and SAFC fan Harry Austin.

They held a few positions similar to those held by SAFC fans. First, distance – not just between them and SAFC but between all teams in the USL – hurts the chances of having more spirited rivalries. They also echoed the belief that, at least when it comes to SAFC, geography won’t spark a rivalry quite as easily as actual matches, the banter between supporters, etc.

“I think some of these rivalries will take a little bit of time to fully flesh themselves out, maybe a couple of seasons, a couple of matches – but all it’ll take is one bad tackle or one bad refereeing decision,” said Phil Baki, co-host of the podcast.

While Seriously Loco acknowledged SAFC as a potential rival (perhaps partially because the question came from an SAFC fan), they seemed much keener on a rivalry with New Mexico United.

To be honest, that rivalry probably makes more sense than one with SAFC. New Mexico United is the closest club to El Paso and both are entering the league at the same time, having been on similar journeys to get their clubs prepared for 2019. There’s even already been healthy banter between the supporters on Twitter.

Austin Young, another voice on Seriously Loco, said they’ve had multiple SAFC fans asking if El Paso’s fans planned to travel to a preseason friendly between the two teams on Saturday. He seems to think they were interested in heating up a rivalry even in preseason.

Based on his description though, it doesn’t sound like something specifically meant to start something, just SAFC fans wondering if they’ll get to meet their new counterparts in El Paso.

When it comes to SAFC players and staff, they’re indifferent toward a rivalry as well. At least for this weekend’s match, SAFC defender Kai Greene said it will be like any other, especially as both teams are trying to figure themselves out ahead of the regular season.

SAFC Head Coach Darren Powell has said on multiple occasions he’d like to see some form of Texas rivalry and the club would help that along. However, SAFC prefers to take a more hands-off approach with something like this, giving the fans room to create things organically.

Powell also has a history with El Paso’s head coach, Mark Lowry, as the two worked together at Orlando City SC’s academy. That kind of connection seems to help the case for the clubs having a brotherly relationship rather than a rivalry.

Ultimately, if there is to be a rivalry involving El Paso and SAFC, it would have to be part of a larger Texas mini-league. That can happen and a couple indicators it will have popped up, but there’s nothing official yet.

Heading into their first season, El Paso sees New Mexico United as their most likely rival anyway, but even that could play second fiddle to the newly-established Four Corners Cup, at least for New Mexico fans. Frankly, El Paso is just in a weird position when it comes to an assured geographic rivalry, and just like Baki said, it may take a few matches or years to figure out who their true rivals should be.

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