Last September the Austin Aztex, under new ownership, announced their return to the American soccer fold. Almost a year earlier the first incarnation of the Aztex had packed up for greener pastures in Orlando, leaving supporters in the lurch and a bad taste in the mouth of the local soccer community.
Austin is a city with seemingly perfect demographics for success: a booming population full of young professionals with disposable incomes, a great place for raising a family, and a strong Latino community. But for all of these factors leaning in their favor former Aztex 1.0 owner, Phil Rawlins cited a lack of local investors (in a tough, recession economy), geographic isolation from the league's other teams, and an awkward stadium situation that gave them team downtown real estate, but a place (since it was high school American football field) where no alcohol could be served or corporate suites be added..
The relocated club ditched the Aztex name and re-branded as Orlando City Soccer Club and went on to immediate success, winning the United Soccer League's PRO division title in 2011 and stoking speculation that the Central Florida team was on Major League Soccer's shortlist for expansion.
Back in Austin, the soccer community found little comfort in Orlando's on-field and off-field success. Behind the scenes, though, a former minority owner, David Markley, was working to bring some team, any team back home.
|USL's David Winner, Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell, |
and Aztex owner David Markley.
Photo Credit: Austin Aztex
Austin's American soccer journey would begin like its predecessor, in the USL's Premier Developmental League, a confederation of regional and sub-regional leagues populated by mostly local, college-aged kids trying to keep their skills sharp in the summertime. Thus, the first disappointment of this new team had emerged; any potential clash against Orlando would have to wait until Austin built strong enough local support to garner a "promotion" (not promotion in the global sense, of course) out of the PDL.
The excitement of the return of live, local soccer was, though, the overwhelming feeling of the moment, overshadowing the fading, bitter memories of last fall.
But now the main task stood front and center.
How would this Austin Aztex organization, version 2.0, be able find success where the other had not?
Regular readers may or may not know this, but Free Beer Movement HQ is located in Austin, Texas so the loss of the original Aztex were quite a blow to our American soccer laboratory. With the return of live, local soccer to our community we wanted to take the opportunity to not only go out and support our local American soccer team, but to tell the story of the return of the Austin Aztex.
The FBM is about using the power of beer to open newbies to the idea of American soccer, but more than just that, our website has always been about documenting the culture that surrounds it and the growth of the game. With a new team beginning in our backyard it only seemed appropriate to follow this story wherever it took us.
Over the next few months, we'll have unprecedented access to the new Aztex ownership, coaching staff, players, and fans in order to document the highs and lows of building American soccer.
At several points through the season we (FBM and Austin-based "The Other 87 Minutes" writer Eric Betts) will observe soccer in Austin from three main angles: the front office, the tactical/team side, and from the fans' perspective. Through exclusive interviews with all these parties we'll try and gather what it takes to try and build a successful soccer club in the United States.
Welcome to "Building American Soccer: The Austin Aztex Project".
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