Their first regular season a rousing success, the Scorpions now enter uncharted waters in the North American Soccer League playoffs.
While finishing the regular season with the best record in the league is a commendable accomplishment, the Scorpions know the postseason presents a new, more difficult challenge.
Well rested and eager to go after earning a bye in the first round of the playoffs, the Scorpions face the defending league champion Minnesota Stars in the first leg of their two-game semifinal series at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in Blaine, Minn.
"There's been this electricity in the air with guys constantly saying, 'Hey, playoffs, playoffs,'" Scorpions manager Tim Hankinson said. "Guys are excited, but the challenge is great. Minnesota is the defending champion. They basically have the same championship team back.
"They know what playoffs are about. They've won together in the playoffs and this will be the first playoff game in our history, so it's new territory for us. Everyone's healthy and everyone's ready to go."
The second leg of the series is scheduled for Oct. 14 at Heroes Stadium.
The team with the most goals after both games advances to the NASL finals against the winner of the Carolina-Tampa Bay series.
"You have to be the best team over 180 minutes," Hankinson said. "The goal differential is the big difference. It's like a 180-minute match that you have to go through. The first half is in Minnesota and the second half is here."
Scorpions won regular-season series against Stars
While the Scorpions were idle last weekend, the Stars beat the Puerto Rico Islanders 2-1 on the road in the quarterfinals. The last seed in the NASL playoffs for the second year in a row. Minnesota won a tough road game in the 2011 quarterfinals en route to the championship.
"They finished sixth last year and went all the way," Hankinson said. "They are a team that finds a different type of energy come playoff time. They know how to turn it on. They're very organized. Offensively, they had a great performance in Puerto Rico. That's a very tough place to play, so that's a big confidence builder that they're on their game.
"Historically, they've always been a well-organized defensive team, so they're hard to break down. Offensively, they're a very good possession team. They push wingbacks high and create numerical advantages in the flanks."
San Antonio and Minnesota tied 1-1 in their last meeting Sept. 23 at Heroes Stadium, but the Scorpions won the regular-season series 1-0-3. The Scorpions beat the Stars 1-0 in Minnesota on Aug. 11,
The teams tied 0-0 in San Antonio on June 2 and 1-1 in Minnesota on Sept. 1.
"In all the games, the result could have gone in either direction," Hankinson said. "It's just one of those even matches where it's really who's going to have a little luck going for them that day and maybe who wants it more at the given moment."
Owned by San Antonio businessman and philanthropist Gordon Hartman, the Scorpions won 13 games, lost 7 and tied 8 in their expansion season. In addition to winning the regular-season title, the team had two players earn individual league honors.
Forward Pablo Campos won the NASL's Golden Boot award for finishing the regular season with the most goals (20), and goalkeeper Daryl Sattler was the winner of the Golden Glove, given to the goalkeeper with the lowest goals against average. Sattler had a 0.79 GAA and a league-best 13 shutouts.
"We have to forget about the regular season because it's over," Campos said. "If we lose, we can't say it's OK because we had a good regular season. Our expectations are high going into the playoffs. The guys are feeling good and we're confident."