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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

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Founder Gordon Hartman's daughter Morgan Hartman

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Coach Hankinson

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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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For a few minutes, I drilled Coach Hankinson on tactics. He knows the game, saying he prefers the traditional 4-3-3 (four defenders, three midfielders, and three forwards) but will adapt to the players he has and the opponent's style. He's equally well-informed about national and world soccer, and seems to have a respectful, no-nonsense, low-profile personality closer to that of Marcelo Bielsa (Athletic Bilbao), Pep Guardiola (Barcelona), or Oscar Tabárez (Uruguay) than the more aggressive and provocative, street smarts of José Mourinho (Real Madrid) or Diego Maradona (Dubai's Al Wasl).

"The best teams in the world are able to maintain possession as a team, and allow [their] stars to be able to escape pressure," said Hankinson, who coached Colombian superstar Carlos Valderrama in Tampa Bay and Colorado in the MLS. "Carlos didn't like to defend, and his idea of defending was to maintain possession. That's in my blood too: maintain possession. No matter what tactic you use, you must maintain possession."

The player announced on January 24 at the Alameda is known for taking good care of the ball, but he can score as well. After weeks of guessing by media and fans alike, the announcement was made: Javier Saavedra, 37, is the Scorpions first star player.

Saavedra, who played nine games with the Mexican national team, is an offensive-minded midfielder known for his speed on the right side and precise assists. He spent five winning seasons with Monterrey's Tigres (the current Mexican champions) and was often their best player — even when the team lost. He's a well-respected player, but his career is forever marked by the Tigres' loss of each of their five finals during that period. Yet, in a risky move, coach Hankinson chose Saavedra for the team and also appointed him coach of the Scorpions' reserve team. At the press conference, Saavedra looked fitter than ever.

"He came on trial in November and he played three practice games with us," Hankinson said. "At his age, for him to compete against the other players the way he did, I was very impressed. Clearly, you look as a coach to manage legs differently. You don't manage a 37-year-old the same way you do a 17-year-old. But I am aware of that, and we'll make sure his legs stay fresh and ready to play."

Hankinson also saw in Saavedra a key ingredient the Scorpions are looking for in all its players: humility.

"Besides having great experience at the right midfield, I really believe in his character," Hankinson said. "He's very professional, very classy, a gentleman. In building a first Scorpion team, finding good personalities with experience to bring to the community is a very special moment for us."

Saavedra exorcised the "loser" chip from his shoulder and regained his confidence by assisting two teams (Irapuato and Necaxa) to remain and return, respectively, to the Mexican First Division in 2009 and 2010. But he is aware that his past — and his age — is something he'll have to battle against playing for the Scorpions. "It's normal for people to wonder whether I'll be able to play," Saavedra told the Current in Spanish in January. "But I'm in excellent shape and you'll see it when the tournament begins."

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