The Austin Aztex officially kicked off its 2013 soccer season with a 2-1 victory on Saturday over the expansion Oklahoma City FC.
The Aztex, who play in the United Soccer League Premier Development League (USL PDL), enjoyed a banner first year. The team advanced to the Southern Conference final, and three players on the team’s 2012 roster were drafted within the first 11 picks in Major League Soccer’s January SuperDraft, an unheard of accomplishment for a PDL team.
Two of those players, Kekuta Manneh (from Lake Travis, drafted 4th by the Vancouver Whitecaps) and Dillon Powers (from Plano, drafted 11th by the Colorado Rapids) are making huge splashes in the league and have been mentioned as candidates for the MLS Rookie of the Year.
“Our first year was a huge success, and we are looking to build on it,” said Aztex Director of Communications Jeff Burns. “Last year, we were all about creating an identity in the community, and this year we are trying to continue to bolster support. We have the same front office, and the same head coach [former MLS player Paul Dalglish], and have signed some great players to bolster our attack.”
One of the new wrinkles in the Aztex schedule is an appearance in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, which is the oldest ongoing national soccer tournament in the United States. By reaching the Southern Conference final last year, the were Aztex guaranteed a berth in the tournament, and will be hosting the NTX Rayados (Dallas) on Tuesday, May 14 at 7:30 p.m. The Aztex play all home games at Central Austin's House Park.
For the newest reincarnation of the Aztex (the team was founded in 2011 after the original Aztex relocated to Orlando, Florida), this is the first appearance in the tournament. It offers the young team a chance to compete against the top teams in Major League Soccer — if the Aztex advance that far.
“Winning this first round game would be huge for us,” said Matthew Gray, former President of Eberly’s Army, the official Aztex supporter group. “Not only would it give us the chance to host a pro team [the Wilmington Hammerheads] from the USL 3rd Division, but will give Aztex alum Gareth Evans [who plays for the Hammerheads] a chance for a homecoming."
“If the Aztex win their first round game," Gray continued, "we will learn a lot about this team early, as they will have played five matches in 14 days.”
The 2013 Aztex are led by Zach Pope, who was named to the All-Southern Conference team, and Andres Cuero, who played for the Hammerheads team mentioned above in the 2011 and 2012 seasons. In addition, 11 players on the Aztex roster have U.S. National Team experience, whether from the Under-17 team or the Under-23 team.
The Aztex posted a 5-1 record in the preseason, outscoring opponents by a combined 20 goals to five goals. For those soccer fans who might not be able to make it to the weeknight game, the Aztex official home opener is Saturday May 18 at 7:30 p.m. against the Houston Dutch Lions.