Improvement, cohesive offensive play, much-needed goals, but still no win for the San Antonio Scorpions as a thrilling match with the Atlanta Silverbacks ends in a 2-2 draw.
After three Scorpions games, fans began to forget what a goal looked like, until the first 30 minutes of action saw four balls hit the back of the net. The Scorpions showed an attacking flair that had not been present throughout the team’s previous 270 minutes of game action. The team is no longer scoreless, but is still without a win.
While eight yellow cards were issued during the game, neither team was willing to wave a white one, as the teams continued to press for the entirety of the 90 minutes of action (and the four minutes of added time).
It was a game of firsts - first point in the new stadium, first goal of the season – but it was not enough to push the Scorpions up from their affixed position at the bottom of the NASL ladder.
“Overall, I think with defensive corrections and the fact that we got two goals on the night, there was a reasonably good effort and it shows signs that we are ready to start winning,” said Scorpions Head Coach Tim Hankinson. “For the fans, I think both teams played well, a different contrast of styles, and I think if you are a fan this was an exciting, a very exciting game, and I think it speaks loud for a night in Toyota Park.”
The first half saw both teams get off to a blistering start and take advantage of their scoring opportunities.
Atlanta got on the board first when midfielder Richie Menjivar received a nice touch pass and sent it past Scorpions keeper Pat Hannigan in the 5th minute of play.
In the early going, the Scorpions fell in to a formulaic pattern of retaining possession but misfiring on the final ball.
In the 20th minute that all changed when forward Hans Dennissen connected from a perfectly placed cross from Javier Saavedra. Denissen, who has played a myriad of positions this seasons, has looked the most likely to score this season and was the perfect candidate to end the Scorpions' lengthy scoring drought.
The goal was a welcomed sight for Scorpions’ fans and coach Tim Hankinson, who expected a strong start from Hans following a stellar week in training.
“We could see signs of that this week,” said Hankinson. “Thursday’s practice was our best of the season. We set up a game that was about scoring and we scored a lot of goals. Hans was actually the hottest player in that practice and we followed up with a good practice Friday…and said alright, Hans is the guy, he looks hot right now and he’s on his game and let’s give it a go and it was great to see him get the first goal.”
Denissen has registered a litany of shots on target this season, including a game-high five shots on target last week in Edmonton. He was happy to finally put a number by his scoring column.
“We had a good week,” said Denissen. “I knew that we had to be aggressive. I think that shows in the yellow cards, which is sometimes not even that smart, but we had to make a stand for ourselves in our home and we did and I guess we were aggressive, sometimes a little too far, but we had a great week this weekend and I think we saw it in this game.
The word ‘aggressive’ was echoed throughout the locker room and that showed in the six yellow cards the Scorpions amassed during the game; the six cards were divided equally over the 90 minutes of action, much to the chagrin of their head coach.
“Last year, we had some problems where the physical play was sometimes (something we) had to encourage at halftime because the other team was just outplaying us physically,” he said. “We encouraged our guys this game to go out and establish that. Now having said that, I looked over and told my assistant coach that we did not have a foul called against us until about the sixth and a half minute and to me that’s not embracing the open whistle.
“That doesn’t mean you go out here and immediately foul, but there are 50/50 challenges everywhere, there are dribbles coming at us everywhere that we have to step up and tackle and we can’t be the type of team that waits to be kicked before we kick back to be aggressive from the get-go. The fact that we grew in that direction was okay, it was a good sign that we are ready to get in the fight rather than be hit and take it.”
Following the first goal of the season Saavedra, who provided the game-tying assist, was taken off with an apparent calf injury and replaced by Pat Phelan.
The introduction of Phelan proved to steady the Scorpions in the midfield and bring balance to the game with a much-need tactical shift in the middle of the park. Phelan helped with the link-up play between the midfield and the strikers and aided the Scorpions in finding the final ball that had been missing most of the season.
And only eight minutes after Phelan’s appearance, Scorpions' midfielder Walter Ramirez's creativity with the ball led to another goal for San Antonio. Denissen received Ramirez's deft cross and sent a touch pass to Edin Husic, who fired a one-touch shot into the net from about 18 yards out.
The Silverbacks did not allow the Scorpions to bask in the glory of their lead for long, as the Silverbacks responded in the 30th minute, just two minutes after the Scorpions did, with a goal of their own. San Antonio, missing two starting defensive backs, suffered a defensive lapse, allowing Pedro Mendez to dribble through the entire Scorpions back line and place a powerful shot deep into the net.
The Scorpions were unable to replicate their first-half offensive impetus in the second 45, with the best chance of the half falling to the Silverbacks when ,in the last minute of stoppage time, Scorpions' goalkeeper Pat Hannigan blocked a break-away opportunity that Atlanta could have easily buried in the back of the net for the win.
“Obviously, we had pushed players,” said Hankinson. “I had pushed Hans back up, because it was about trying to win the game and we know that takes risks and sometimes you pay the price for that and we almost did because it means we don’t have as many players back defensively but look, we are at home and our home stands we are here to win, not get out with a draw, so we take the risk and almost paid the price but Pat exploded out and got big and smothered it up, so it was a good, clean save.”
With the 2-2 draw, the Scorpions sit at two points through four games this season.
Hankinson said he is not concerned about the team’s place in the standings. He is more focused on getting better and getting his team prepared for improved play throughout the summer.
“I’m not concerned and I won’t even bother looking as to first place, second place or who is where or where are we because it doesn’t matter,” said Hankinson. “We just have to get better, we have to start winning before we can get caught up in the rankings.”
Next week, the Scorpions travel to Carolina for their first matchup with the Railhawks. The game is slated for a 6 p.m. kickoff on Saturday, May 11 with the Scorpions still searching for their first win of the young season.
Game Notes: The announced attendance for the second game at Toyota Park was 7,053. The Scorpions were without the services of starting defenders Stephen DeRoux (foot) and Greg Janicki (hamstring). Blake Wagner started in the stead of DeRoux and Hankinson was very pleased with Wagner's performance, stating that Wagner was in a completely different "professional mindset" this season.