Copa Tejas kicks off in Frisco with The Texas Derby

Saturday’s Texas Derby sees FC Dallas and the Houston Dynamo begin their series to determine which stadium El Capitan resides in for a year but the game also marks the dawn of a new competition for all three Texan sides in Major League Soccer called Copa Tejas.

Copa Tejas is entering its third season, having been founded as a supporter-led competition for the state’s USL Championship teams.

Austin Bold won the inaugural season as the four sides – Bold, San Antonio FC, Rio Grande Valley FC Toros, and El Paso Locomotive – contested a head-to-head league based on the format of the Cascadia Cup from games within the USL Championship regular season.

Copa Tejas
Copa Tejas

The cup was not awarded in 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The second tier of men’s domestic soccer split teams into groups for reduced travel in the regular season. While three of the four Texan clubs were placed in Group D with OKC Energy and FC Tulsa, El Paso was instead grouped with New Mexico United, Real Monarchs, and Colorado Springs Switchbacks.

“[USL] separated El Paso into the West, because of travel restrictions and everything else, so they broke up the Texas teams,” explained Copa Tejas co-founder and San Antonio FC fan Steve Arters. “So we all voted as supporter groups. We either ride as one or we don’t ride at all, so we stayed on the sidelines for 2020.”

“Actually, it really kind of helped the brand, people really seem to kind of dig that,” Arters continued. “And in 2020 since we didn’t award a trophy, we had another idea that has grown called Copa XI. The supporters selected the best players all for the four teams to make a starting Copa XI and we actually gave them crystal beer mugs.”

Familiar Territory

FC Dallas’ Dallas Beer Guardians and El Matador will be joined by five other supporters’ groups in governing the Division One competition, as well as a member from the Copa Tejas directors. Texian Army, The Surge, and Bandera Negra from Houston, as well as Austin Anthem and Los Verdes join the two North Texas groups.

“This competition is for supporters by supporters, and the groups from around the state have already put in a ton of work in collaboration with the Copa Tejas directors to make this a great event and lasting tradition in the history of Texas soccer,” said Dallas Beer Guardians President Steven Goold. “We give our team everything we’ve got for 90-plus minutes each week and this competition will only help further the passion and intensity displayed by the supporters of our club. We couldn’t be more excited.”

FC Dallas competes in two other supporter-led competitions that the team has won in recent years.

The Supporters’ Shield may be the most notable example in American soccer of supporters’ groups collaborating on a trophy. The Supporters’ Shield Foundation is a board elected among the supporters’ groups who make up the Independent Supporters’ Council. That foundation raises money to fund the upkeep of the shield, which is held by the ISC member organizations affiliated to the winning team rather than the MLS franchise itself.

Matt Hedges holds up the Brimstone Cup in front of the Dallas Beer Garden after FC Dallas beat Chicago Fire for the trophy. (Dan Crooke)

The Brimstone Cup was the very first supporter-purchased rivalry cup in MLS as the Dallas Burn and Chicago Fire formed a strong rivalry over several hotly contested games at the turn of the century. Chicago’s Section 8 and Dallas’ Inferno supporters group worked together to fundraise and purchase the trophy in 2001. The Dallas Beer Guardians have since assumed the role as FC Dallas’ representative for the Brimstone Cup.

Supporter-led trophies naturally stay with the fans and lead to a more personal ceremony than the typical ‘corporate guy in a suit’ handing a trophy to an owner that we see in other American sports. The previous winner of the Supporters’ Shield will hand-deliver it to the group that succeeds them in holding it.

As a fan, I’ve personally handed the Brimstone Cup over to Chicago’s Brandt Bronico in front of the Harlem End at SeatGeek Stadium after FC Dallas lost in the last game between the two sides in Bridgeview, and been present on the field as Matt Hedges drank beer from the cup in front of the FC Dallas supporters.

At the awarding of the 2019 Copa Tejas, representatives from each group, along with co-founders Steve Arters and Danielle Gawronski gathered in Bold Stadium at the Circuit of the Americas as Austin Bold secured the maiden championship with a 3-0 win over RGVFC. Similarly representatives from each of the MLS groups will be on hand to award the Division One trophy to its first holder later this year.

Representatives of the Texan USL Championship clubs, as well as Copa Tejas co-founders Steve Arters (2nd left, standing) and Danielle Gawronski (right) pose with the Copa Teja trophy (Copa Tejas)

The Cup

One thing that makes those supporter-led competitions special is that the trophies were commissioned and paid for by fans with no possibility of a sponsor logo tarnishing the image. The original Copa Tejas was funded by donations from the USL Championship supporters’ groups and the Division One trophy is no different.

The supporters’ groups of FC Dallas, Houston Dynamo, and Austin FC are contributing $1,800 – and hoping to raise a further $3,000 via GoFundMe – to ensure a fully custom trophy that is quintessentially Texan, a travel case, and maintain a small maintenance fund.

Three concept images of possible designs for the Copa Tejas Division One trophy (Dallas Beer Guardians)

The groups released some concept images and are aiming to have a finished product that will travel to each Copa Tejas game among the MLS teams from the next, which will be Austin FC v Houston Dynamo on August 4. The cup could potentially make its first stop in Frisco three days later when Austin and Dallas meet for the first time in competitive play.

The Shield

FC Dallas doesn’t have to wait until Saturday to compete in Copa Tejas as a third award bridges the gap not only between its two divisions, but also across to the top tier of women’s soccer.

The Copa Tejas Shield takes all regular season games into account using points-per-game to determine its order among the three MLS sides, four USL Championship teams, and the Houston Dash of NWSL.

SAFC and RGVFC currently share the top spot with a PPG of 3 after both winning their opening games. FC Dallas heads into the Texas Derby weekend in fourth place on 1.33 PPG while three teams have yet to play.

One of the goals Arters mentioned was presenting a situation where teams in Texas may take an interest in each other’s games whether it’s a true rival like the Dynamo, or not, maybe even helping to facilitate organic rivalry along the way. Between the Division One cup, Copa XI, and Copa Tejas Shield across three leagues, there is a great deal of soccer to pay attention to beyond FCD’s six in-state games in 2021.

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