Last weekend was an amazing showing of support from the soccer community, Austin Aztex fans, and Austinites in general. The Aztex have had a terrific season in their sophomore campaign for this "version" of the team.
The Aztex hosted the Premier Development League (PDL) Southern Conference Championships, which welcomed the Laredo Heat (Laredo, TX), Ocala Stampede (Ocala, FL), and Panama City Beach Pirates (Panama City, FL) to the warm (ok, hot) temperatures of Austin for a single elimination tournament to determine who would advance to the PDL League Championships. All games were at House Park, the home of the Austin Aztex.
There was a lot of excitement in the soccer community, and I was able to spend some time at the Tavern next door to House Park prior to the game. The atmosphere was electric. The official Austin Aztex Supporters group, Eberly's Army, had a sizable contingent performing chants, singing songs, and generally creating a great atmosphere for the fans. I counted more than a couple dozen fans wearing Aztex jerseys. It was exciting to see how support has really grown for the team since the Aztex moved to House Park.
A little history first.
The first version of the Austin Aztex was founded in 2008 by Phil Rawlins, an Englishman who made his money in the software industry. He teamed up with David Markley, who owned the Austin Lightning, to create the new team. His goal was to create a soccer franchise that would eventually earn admission into Major League Soccer (MLS), the top level of professional soccer in North America. The first season the team competed in the PDL, and the next season they had a team in what is now the USL Pro division—one step below the MLS.
The brand of soccer they played was good; they had good success on the field and built the foundation for top soccer in Austin. However, after a few years, Rawlins was unable to secure rights to build a stadium, and set his sights elsewhere. The team moved to Orlando and became Orlando City. That was the end of professional soccer in Austin…or was it?
In 2011, Markley reestablished the team in Austin with a new goal (as stated on their website): to provide "a winning and entertaining style of soccer" and to "develop local players." Markley is a passionate fan who has been playing in the Austin Coed Soccer Association for as long as I can remember. His vision for the team is represented well and, in my opinion, he has done a fantastic job of accomplishing his mission. The team DOES play a very entertaining style of soccer, and they just win, win, win. This is what gets me excited about the Aztex again.
Back to last weekend's Southern Conference Championships: On Friday, the Aztex played the Panama City Beach Pirates, and it wasn't even close. Terrific goals by Sito Seoane, Khiry Shelton, Andres Cuero, and Leone Cruz sent the Aztex to the next round by defeating Panama 4-0. The quality of play was amazing—a very fast-paced style, completely controlling possession and dominating play. The Aztex then went on to defeat the Laredo Heat 2-0 on Saturday, clinching the Southern Conference title.The crowd of 2,673 fans at House Park were loud and stayed until the end to support the team. It was a great game.
Next up is the PDL Championships. Both semifinal games will be this Friday, August 2, at House Park. The Thunder Bay Chill (Thunder Bay, Ontario) play the Victoria Highlanders (Victoria, British Columbia) at 5:00 p.m., and the Aztex host the Ocean City Nor'easters (Ocean City, NJ) at 7:30 p.m. The championship finals will take place on Sunday, August 4, at 7:30 p.m. (tickets to the match-ups can be found on the Aztex website; kids 10 and under are always free).
I am excited to see what the Aztex, David Markley, and Head Coach Paul Dalglish have in store for fans next year. The future of professional soccer is indeed bright in Austin.