Soccer Returns to Austin
Know your Aztex: A (re)introduction to your city's soccer team, the Austin Aztex2.0
Soccer’s coming back to Austin.
Yes, it was here pretty recently. And then it left – but now it’s back.
If you’re only dimly aware of soccer in Austin, you might have a passing knowledge of Austin recently having its own soccer team, named the Aztex — a name which emphasizes the Texas-ness of the team.
However, the Aztex that is celebrating its home opener this coming Saturday at House Park after its initial three road games, is not quite the same Aztex active between 2008 and 2010. The Aztex of yesteryear boasted a good-sized PR splash, professional status as a league not too far afield from Major League Soccer (or MLS – the top-tier soccer league in the U.S. and Canada), an affiliation with Stoke City (a well-established English Premier League team that started in 1863), and even radio broadcasts of their games.
But then, they relocated to the more Disney-fied pastures of Orlando and became Orlando City Soccer Club (adopting a three lions logo as a not-so-subtle shout-out to the team’s English connections, though their lions look more like MGM title card lions).
The latest iteration of the Aztex — continuing in a tradition of Austin soccer organizations that began with the awesomely-named Soccadillos in 1987 — is a team made up of what coach Paul Dalglish describes as some of the best, most promising college players in the country, in a league that allows college players to fill the gap between college seasons. And because college players forfeit their eligibility if they’re paid to play, these Aztex are amateurs in the not-paid-to-play sense of the word.
With the exception of 36-year-old Beto Papandrea (who played with the first Aztex and now functions as a sort of player-coach), most of the Aztex squad is in the 17-22 age range, with a few more senior twenty-somethings in the mix. Not unlike minor league baseball players, Aztex players have aspirations to be playing for professional teams, and playing for the Aztex could function as a springboard for that dream.
One of these twenty-somethings, 26-year-old Zack Pope, has had a taste of MLS life with both the Chicago Fire and FC Dallas and is now in a “just enjoying playing soccer” phase — though he’d obviously like to return to the pro ranks if the opportunity comes.
“This is a highly competitive league,” he asserts. “The players are just as good as the players who were with the Aztex in ’08.” He also notes that Austin’s got a good base of supporters, saying, “There’s a lot of interest in soccer, and even though teams come and go in Austin, people here support the teams.”
That’s something Dalglish notes as well.
“They’re really passionate fans, and they came in decent numbers for the previous version of the Aztex. We’d be pleased and consider ourselves lucky if we can play in front of those kinds of fans.”
Dalglish brings an impressive pedigree as someone who’s lived the dream and now wants to teach others how to get there. He played in the MLS at the tail end of his career (with the Houston Dynamo), after growing up in Scotland and playing with a number of English Premier League and Scottish Premier League teams.
And his rather famous father Kenny was, up until this past Wednesday, the manager of Liverpool, one of the most recognizable EPL clubs in existence, and led Blackburn Rovers to an EPL Championship in 1995. (Yes, the same just-relegated Blackburn Rovers I talked about at length in last week’s article.)
The new league brings its own unusual challenges for a manager — for instance, there are only six teams, so there’s a decided familiarity that the teams get with one another. Schedules have teams occasionally playing matches on back-to-back days. The nature of a developmental league also makes for an unusually large squad — 37 players are on the squad, though only 18 can dress for any given match.
Yet Dalglish welcomes the challenges at this level, and by employing a 4-2-3-1 formation (that’s four defenders, two defensive midfielders, three offensive midfielders, and one forward), he’s creating a system in which a more fluid, run-happy, attack-friendly style of soccer can flourish.
And in a city where some believe that a professional team could someday land and succeed, it’s a style that lends itself to engaging more casual fans who just don’t get the allure of 0-0.
The Austin Aztex make its home debut this Saturday at House Park (1301 Shoal Creek Blvd.) against the El Paso Patriots at 7:30 p.m. Ticket info (including online ticket purchase) is available on the Aztex website.