Frequent contributor Jon Marthaler has written about virtually every sport in the Twin Cities, and fills in on Saturdays for the RandBall blog on StarTribune.com. He'll cover the professional soccer scene in the Twin Cities, whether at the Metrodome or at the National Sports Center.
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The San Antonio Scorpions won the NASL regular-season title in 2012, scoring the most goals in the league and allowing the fewest along the way. The team opens their own soccer-specific stadium next week. They're backed by a fairly serious ownership group, one that wants to someday play in the top division in America.
So why are several of the team's best players in Minnesota in 2013? Former Scorpions Daryl Sattler and Aaron Pitchkolan point to one deciding factor: head coach Manny Lagos.
Said Sattler, "I loved the organization there [in San Antonio]. But after talking to Manny, and seeing what this organization was putting together, I was excited about making the move. I just felt something special here."
"We had similar playing experiences - he kind of bounced around the MLS, played with a couple of teams in the lower divisions," said Pitchkolan. "We had a bunch of good conversations, and he really made me feel comfortable. And talking with the new owners and everything, it was really just an exciting opportunity that I couldn't pass up."
Pitchkolan, a defensive midfielder, is ready to get a game against his old club. "They've got quite a few new players, and I know quite a few players - I think it's going to be fun. I've talked to a couple of guys who I'm friends with."
Sattler, meanwhile, thinks it's all fun and games - but only until he steps across the white lines. "I have a lot of good friends there, I'm friends with the coaches and people in the organization, but now they're the opponents," he said. "It's a good thing. At the end of the day, you cross the lines, it's a war, it's a battle."
"I’ve got a new group now. We’re looking for a W at home."
* San Antonio returns only eight players from 2012 - but several of their best are back. Captain Kevin Harmse and NASL Best XI selection Walter Ramirez return to anchor the midfield, and the ever-dangerous Hans Dennisen leads the attack, albeit without the now-in-Minnesota Pablo Campos as his partner.
* The Scorpions have also added to their squad. Pat Phelan, who made 80 appearances for the New England Revolution in MLS between 2008 and 2011, returns to the USA after a 2012 sojourn to Finland, ostensibly to replace Pitchkolan in the defensive midfield role. San Antonio has also added a passel of players from Eastern Europe, including Serbian Nikola Vasilic, who will likely start at forward alongside Dennisen.
* Though Sattler played virtually every match for San Antonio in 2012, it's worth remembering that Pat Hannigan was originally set to be first choice before injury derailed his 2012. Hannigan is back between the pipes for San Antonio this season.
* Despite his move to Minnesota, Campos is suspended for this game - a two-match ban stemming from the NASL semifinals last season, in which he earned a straight red card for headbutting United's Kyle Altman. Really, you have to respect Campos's power; San Antonio was the favorite to go through to the championship round until that moment, and now United is without the services of their best forward in the season opener, and it's a very rare moment of madness that can cause problems for two different franchises in two different seasons.
* Several trial players still remain in United's camp. Forward Joe Lapira, midfielder Luis Heitor-Piffer, and keeper Peter McKeown are still with the team, and defender Brent Kallman has returned to Creighton to complete his senior year of college, but is still on the club's radar. Midfielder Sean de Silva, who has represented Trinidad and Tobago at the U-17, U-20, and U-23 levels, is also training with the team for two weeks.
* Speaking of Lapira, he sported a tremendous bushy red beard for most of the preseason, but a source tells me that he's shaved it off in favor of a handlebar mustache. "Think Yosemite Sam," says the source. Lapira will be in competition with defender Connor Tobin for "Best Cookie Duster" honors at tonight's game.