San Antonio FC's fans will be hoping to celebrate with the Copa Tejas at the end of the 2019 USL Championship season as the new Texas-based regional rivalry tournament kicks off this year. | Photo courtesy Darren Abate / San Antonio FC
While San Antonio FC supporters’ groups the Crocketeeers, Mission City Firm and 210 Alliance were working to create a more unified front this offseason, Steve Arters and Danielle Gawronski saw an opportunity to do something bigger for soccer fans across Texas.
The idea was to bring the state’s four USL Championship teams (SAFC, Rio Grande Valley FC, Austin Bold FC and El Paso Locomotive FC) together in a supporter-driven cup competition, similar to the Southern Derby and Four Corners Cup.
Arters, who helped in the founding of The Crocketeers in 2009, sat in on meetings between the three supporters’ groups and the SAFC front office as they discussed various plans for the 2019 season, including moving into a single supporters’ section of Toyota Field. While assisting with those efforts, Arters also used the face-time to bounce some framework ideas for the cup off everyone involved.
“At some point, somebody had to take the idea and start to drive it,” Arters said in a phone interview last week. “I called Danielle [Gawronski] and said ‘Hey, would you wanna work together on this Cascadia Cup-like concept idea?’ She said yeah, and we started working on it almost right away.”
Gawronski, a fellow SAFC fan who created Las Rojas FC – a local supporters’ group dedicated to women – immediately got to work. She began generating ideas for a name and got in touch with supporters’ groups from Austin, El Paso and Rio Grande Valley to make sure they would all be on-board.
“We’re chatting with them a couple times a day on Twitter about different things,” said Gawronski. “Right now, we’re in the process of finalizing the design of the logo. So, we’ve all had a couple suggestions on what we wanted, what we were looking for and things like that.”
After about two months of planning, the fruits of their labor paid off as they announced Copa Tejas would begin in the 2019 season.
The trophy will be awarded for the first time at the end of the regular season, with the Texas team that has best head-to-head record among the four clubs being crowned state champion. That team and its fans will get to keep the trophy – and the bragging rights that come with it – for the following year.
“There was already a rivalry between SAFC and RGVFC, so it was just natural to bring in the other two teams,” said Gawronski. “There’s already a general San Antonio-Austin rivalry about who has the best tacos, who created the breakfast taco, some of those things. There’s already that natural pre-existing rivalry, so this cup just kind of formalizes what’s already been there.
“It’s been fun to watch to see how this has truly taken on a life of its own,” said Gawronski. “You never know when you put something out there what the response is going to be, and it’s been awesome watching Twitter and seeing people like stuff and share stuff. You see RGVFC just re-posted the news release on their main page, so you know that the club is on-board with it and to see the front offices also kind of embrace it.”
And of course, RGVFC wasn’t the only one spreading the love. El Paso supporters’ group 8th Notch has already created a flag for its opening game of Copa Tejas, and the team has also promoted the competition from its official social media accounts.
With the Copa Tejas organizers being a pair of San Antonio FC fans, it’s also no surprise that the club’s front office has backed the team’s new regional rivalry.
“We are pleased that SAFC supporters have taken the initiative of organizing a cup competition between the Texas based USL Championship teams,” said San Antonio FC Managing Director and SS&E Vice President Tim Holt. “We believe the creation of Copa Tejas will enhance the importance and excitement around these specific matches amongst the Texas clubs. This is a competition we value as a club and we look forward to competing against our Texas rivals and hopefully bringing home the first edition of the Copa Tejas this season."
Copa Tejas will kick off on Saturday when Locomotive FC hosts RGVFC at Southwest University Park, while SAFC will make its debut in the competition on March 30 when it visits Austin for the first-ever meeting between the two clubs.
“I know that there are already some whispers about doing some different tailgates,” said Gawronski. “There’s really a truly unified support in Texas, which I think is important because we see a lot of the rivalries but there’s also that unity.”
Arters says the plan is to bring the trophy around to some to some games and tailgates throughout the inaugural season of Copa Tejas before it gets its first true home.
“That’s the hope,” Arters said. “We think that that’s a way that it makes it really tangible, really real for the different supporters to actually see the cup.”
While there are plenty of other plans still in the works for the coming season, you can be sure of one thing.
Everything is bigger in Texas, and Copa Tejas will be no different.