After nearly two years of uncertainty, the capital city of Texas will once again be represented in the United Soccer League, according to a league release.
The as-yet nameless club will play at a new soccer-specific venue at Circuit of the Americas, and will be led by COTA Chairman Bobby Epstein. Play will begin in 2019.
After a successful stint in the Premier Development League, the Austin Aztex joined the USL for the 2015 season, and began play at House Park near downtown Austin. Unfortunately, epic mid-season flooding forced the club to finish its home schedule at Reeves Athletic Complex in the distant northern suburbs. Both venues were operated by public school districts, and prohibited alcohol sales.
Owners Rene van de Zande and David Markley gave no indication that the club was in any long-term trouble, but at the end of the season, with no suitable alternative stadium in sight, the Aztex were granted a leave of absence by the USL. Then in July of 2016, it became clear that the Aztex were not in league plans for 2017 either.
The Aztex were not named in the release.
The announcement puts an interesting wrinkle into a saga that has affected not only the USL and Austin fans, but Major League Soccer and those vying for admission. Long considered a desirable city for MLS expansion, Austin’s absence from the pro game these past two seasons, to say nothing of the apparent lack of viable stadium sites or interested investors, would apparently have spelled the end for the talk of a move to D1. However, the questions of “how” and “when” continue to surface.
Recently, the mayor of Austin, Steve Adler, was quoted as saying he thinks Austin would be a great market for MLS. ““I would support a team coming to the city,” he said. “I don’t think I would support public investment in building a stadium for a professional team, but I certainly think it would be great if there was a professional soccer team here.”
Austin is obviously not among the 12 candidate cities in the running for the current round of expansion, but the safe bet with regards to MLS is not to bet. Stranger things have happened, and today’s news may indeed signal more interesting developments to come.