Image: Jonathan Check, Two Ten Soccer
Sunday’s match against FC Dallas in Frisco, Texas, is the second of San Antonio FC’s preseason, and the first open to the public.
Unfortunately, it’s one of two preseason matches, both open to the public, not in San Antonio, so fans will find it hard to make the trip. The likelihood of traveling support is even lower for the matchup six days later against the New England Revolution in Tucson, Arizona.
There’s some good news though: only those two preseason matches are elsewhere, while the other five are in San Antonio. However, there’s some bad news about that good news: only one of those home matches is open to the public.
There are various reasons SAFC doesn’t make most preseason matches open to the public. Multiple club officials alluded to the costs of opening matches up to fans – security, event staff, having all the lights on, etc – but that assumes matches have to be held at Toyota Field. As in 2017, Sunday’s friendly against FC Dallas in Frisco will be on one of the numerous fields at the adjacent Toyota Soccer Center, an arrangement which absolves FC Dallas of most of the concerns SAFC has. Gee, if only SAFC was lucky enough to have a large soccer complex right next to their home stadium like FC Dallas does.
SAFC has a few other reasons which are more legitimate though. Head Coach Darren Powell said they experiment in terms of tactics and personnel in preseason matches, so keeping the match closed takes some pressure off the players.
Short of experimenting, just the basics of preseason matches don’t change from the players’ point of view; there’s still a ball, a field and two teams battling it out. Whether in training or actual matches, players are focused on preparing for the real thing and building chemistry as a team.
“We always love playing in front of our fans and we love playing in front of fans in general, but those games will come when the seasons starts,” said SAFC defender-midfielder Ryan Roushandel. “That adds to the anticipation of the season starting, for all of us.”
Roushandel also said the presence of fans makes things seem more realistic though. In that case, there are really two ways of making preseason matches feel more realistic: making it to where fans can (realistically) show up and playing in an actual stadium instead of just any random field. SAFC favors the latter, more than some fans would like.
To SAFC’s credit, the one home preseason match they opted to open up, against RGVFC on March 2, is probably the right one. Not only are the two teams rivals, but SAFC fans would otherwise only see RGVFC at Toyota Field once in 2018, in the very last match of the regular season.
Of course when the season starts, fans will be allowed to attend every match, but SAFC has different priorities right now. Powell and the players consistently praise the fans for their support, but the preseason isn’t about them.
“The most important thing is our fans on opening night get to see the best version of the team,” Powell said – and that opening day benchmark was mentioned multiple times.
As tough as it may be to hear, keeping the preseason mostly behind closed doors may be the best thing for fans who want to see the team do well when it matters, and the anticipation can build for all involved.
Like it or not, you just have to trust the process.