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The nonprofit Scorpions finally brought professional soccer to SA, but will it stick?

Photo: Photos by Kimberly Jennings, License: N/A

Photos by Kimberly Jennings

English forward Euan Purcell fights for a ball during one of the Scorpions' pre-season games.

Photo: , License: N/A

Founder Gordon Hartman

Photo: N/A, License: N/A

Founder Gordon Hartman's daughter Morgan Hartman

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Coach Hankinson

Photo: N/A, License: N/A

The team before one of the pre-season games. Pablo Campos, top row, far left; Mexican international Javier Saavedra fourth from left in bottom row.

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As President Obama was preparing to give his State of the Union address on Tuesday, January 24, the San Antonio Scorpions had more pressing matters to attend to — a press conference at the Museo Alameda to announce the signing of the first Mexican international player in its roster. Who cares, right? About 400 people did, showing up more than an hour before the press conference started.

For soccer-loving San Antonians looking forward to an April 7 season start facing the Atlanta Silverbacks (the first home game is April 15 against the Puerto Rico Islanders), this was no ordinary night. Come to think of it: the second-division Scorpions are no ordinary team either, even by Major League Soccer standards. They enjoy a solid infrastructure organized with a seldom-seen attention to detail, remarkable business savvy, strong grassroots support, and humanitarian spirit. Their slogan: "Soccer for a Cause."

The team is the brainchild of local philanthropist Gordon Hartman, who in 2010 opened Morgan's Wonderland, a 25-acre wheelchair-accessible park with more than 25 rides, playscapes, and attractions specifically designed for handicapped children. All profits from the SA Scorpions benefit the park.

"We want to win and we're built to win, but the biggest victory is that after a game people will want to come back and help these kids," Hartman said.

Sound weird? Not to the legions of supportive fans; Spanish-language TV giant Univision, which jumped on board; and sponsors like Bud Light and others, all crazy about the Scorpions, the newest franchise in the North American Soccer League. The league —  second only to Major League Soccer* and related to the Pelé-led organization of the '70s and '80s in name only** — was founded in 2009 and now has eight teams from the U.S., Canada, and Puerto Rico.

This is a team with fan connection at the core. Even before the team had members, it had three divisions of organized fans ready to cheer. It was the fans that chose the team's official jersey (black with horizontal thin white stripes for home games, white with black stripes for away games) out of three models made by Nike (the Scorpions are the only U.S. professional soccer team Nike sponsors). Fans also designed the team's logo and scarf. The loudest of these supporters have organized themselves into three groups modeled after those in the Italian Serie A and England's Premiere League: the Crocketteers, Bexar County Casuals, and Alamo City Ultras.

The team is coached by Tim Hankinson, a veteran of the MLS and college soccer in the U.S., Brazil, and India, who assembled a mix of youth and experience and stresses personal discipline as much as skill on the field. He's the type of coach who likes offensive soccer, but who is not dumb about it: he knows a good team starts with a good defense. After trying out hundreds of players in San Antonio, Arizona, and Maryland, he chose a 24-man roster that includes players from Mexico, Honduras, Netherlands, Brazil, England, and Canada. Several of them have MLS experience, but the one thing they hold in common is that they're tough and they run after every single ball, attackers always ready to defend and defenders ready to surprise on offense as needed.

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