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 are in disarray. There's no other word for it. After closing the NASL spring season with five consecutive wins, they were the trendy pick to win the fall title; instead, they've lost their first four matches of the fall. Head coach Tim Hankinson paid for the lapse with his job this week; he got the boot Tuesday afternoon, at what appeared to be a fairly hastily-called press conference. Hankinson has been replaced by his assistant, former Minnesota Thunder forward Alen Marcina, who played for the club briefly during the disastrous 2008 season
I communicated with two Scorpions experts this week; Chris Hockman covers the Scorpions for the San Antonio Soccer Examiner and is a columnist for Soccer Newsday, and James Hope is the president of the Crocketeers, San Antonio's fan club. They both echoed the same theme: nobody has any idea what's going on.
Said Hockman, "The short answer is, I don't know."
Said Hope, "It's hard to point it to one thing."
Both mentioned that the team has been wildly inconsistent, and Hockman suggested that the team had perhaps focused too much on shoring up the offense during the summer break, while ignoring defensive problems. San Antonio has scored six goals in four games, a decent total, but has allowed an astonishing twelve - including seven in one match.
The Scorpions still have the dangerous Hans Denissen up front, who is second in the league in goals this year, and they've added Polish striker Tomasz Zahorski, who has four goals in four games since joining the team. But the real problem is in defense; opponents have scored one, two, two, and seven goals against them, in four fall matches.
It's hard to put a finger on any particular defensive problem for the Scorpions, either. They've given up goals direct from free kicks, from corners, from set pieces, from open play, off breakaways, through bad goalkeeping, from giving midfielders too much space - pretty much every possible way. If there was a defensive breakdown bingo card, they'd have a blackout in the fall season alone.
Their first game, a 7-4 loss to Tampa Bay, probably summed up their second half-season so far. The Scorpions scored three times in the opening 18 minutes, but incredibly, by halftime, they were down 4-3. After halftime, they got back within 5-4, before giving up two more goals in the final ten minutes. That's the definition of disarray.
Since that loss, it's been all downhill; 1-0 in Edmonton, 2-1 at home to Fort Lauderdale, then 2-1 last week in New York, when the Cosmos scored in injury time to beat a 10-man Scorpions side.
The worrisome thing, from a Minnesota standpoint, is that United has been in a very similar situation already this year. On June 1, the Scorpions were last in the NASL, having managed just one win and two ties in seven games. They'd lost to a PDL team in their previous home game (in the US Open Cup). And, despite what appeared to be a reeling San Antonio team, Minnesota went into San Antonio and completely laid an egg, allowing goals in the first minute and the last to lose 2-0.
The game set San Antonio on a late title push and a five-game winning streak. It helped knock Minnesota into a tailspin for the remainder of the spring. In other words: beware the Scorpions team that appears wounded.
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