You have reached your limit of free articles this month.

Enjoy unlimited access to myStatesman.com

Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks.

GREAT REASONS TO SUBSCRIBE TODAY!

  • IN-DEPTH REPORTING
  • INTERACTIVE STORYTELLING
  • NEW TOPICS & COVERAGE
  • ePAPER
X

You have read of premium articles.

Get unlimited access to all of our breaking news, in-depth coverage and bonus content- exclusively for subscribers. Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks

X

Welcome to myStatesman.com

This subscriber-only site gives you exclusive access to breaking news, in-depth coverage, exclusive interactives and bonus content.

You can read free articles of your choice a month that are only available on myStatesman.com.

USL promoted, but Austin pro soccer grounded for another year


Highlights

Aztex ownership concedes that team will not return until at least 2018.

Expanding USL gains Division 2 status as NASL struggles to survive.

The ever-expanding United Soccer League received a booster shot this weekend, elevated to provisional Division 2 status by the national federation.

The Austin Aztex, however, will not be along for the ride — at least not this year, ownership confirmed Saturday.

“Yes, 2017 is out,” Aztex owner Rene van de Zande told the American-Statesman. “The Aztex are in continued discussions with the league to return in 2018.”

Aztex majority investor Bobby Epstein has maintained a “no stadium, no team” stance all along, but van de Zande and the league office held out a sliver of hope for an Austin return this year with a temporary stadium or rental.

The Aztex and the USL agreed on a one-year suspension for 2016 after the team lost more than a million dollars in its 2015 debut while renting two high school facilities for its home games.

That initial suspension ran out in October, but the USL kept the Aztex in the league — on paper, at least — for an undetermined period while the stadium search continued.

A USL owner who did not want to be identified told the Statesman the league is showing patience because it desires to be in the Austin market.

The USL, which has close ties to Major League Soccer, is going places. Since 2014, it has doubled in size to 30 franchises, adding Texas teams in San Antonio and the Rio Grande Valley. Ottawa, Reno and Tampa Bay will come on line in 2017, and Nashville is signed up for 2018.

Until now, the NASL was Division 2 and the USL Division 3. The U.S. Soccer Federation will consider them co-Division 2 and re-evaluate at the end of the year.

“This provides further validation about our league’s financial sustainability, national footprint, ownership quality, stadium infrastructure and player development,” USL CEO Alec Papadakis said. “Our teams have invested more than $100 million into stadium development in the last year to enhance the experience for 1.5 million fans that attended games in 2016.”

While the USL keeps growing and improving, the NASL is shrinking and hemorrhaging money. NASL teams in Tampa Bay and Ottawa are jumping to the USL. The New York Cosmos and Oklahoma City were on the verge of collapse. The NASL could have as few as eight teams, but the USSF threw it a lifeline because it does not want the older league to die.

Meanwhile, Austin will be without a professional soccer team for the second year in a row. Aztex ownership has told the Statesman it will take a 5,000-seat stadium at a cost of $5 million to $6 million, not counting land purchase, to meet USL standards. There are no indications that owners are close to finding new investors or getting city help to make that happen.

Van de Zande is pleased with the USL’s rise in profile.

“This has been a few years in the making,” he said. “Division 2 criteria has set the bar higher to operate a USL franchise, including the need for better facilities.

“In our stadium solution discussions, the Austin Aztex already anticipated the criteria that must be met to operate a team in Division 2.”



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Sports

2017 March Madness: The Final Four from A to Z
2017 March Madness: The Final Four from A to Z

Running down the four-team contingent set to meet in the desert next weekend in the 2017 Final Four, in an orderly and alphabetical way . . . A is for adjustments, which have propelled Oregon in particular to the final weekend of the season. The Ducks lost senior center and rim protector Chris Boucher to a knee injury during the Pacific-12 tournament...
Bears' idea of sustainable success is just talk until they fix QB position
Bears' idea of sustainable success is just talk until they fix QB position

The talking point the Bears keep circling back to this offseason is that their goal is to build a team for sustainable success.  It's what team President Ted Phillips outlined in a Feb. 8 letter explaining a price increase for the vast majority of tickets at Soldier Field. It's what general manager Ryan Pace said more recently at the beginning...
Back from irregular heartbeat, Dempsey hopes for 4th Cup 
Back from irregular heartbeat, Dempsey hopes for 4th Cup 

Clint Dempsey's big, owlish eyes brightened and he smiled widely. Seven months after he was sidelined by an irregular heartbeat, he not only returned to the U.S. national team at age 34 but helped the Americans to a critical victory in World Cup qualifying with just the second hat trick of his international career.   "There's moments...
Resilience carries South Carolina to a most unexpected stage
Resilience carries South Carolina to a most unexpected stage

In the moments after South Carolina clinched the first Final Four berth in team history, coach Frank Martin found his 74-year-old mother, Lourdes, and finally let down his guard. The scowl softened. The lips that breathed fire now curled upward in stupefaction. “He told me, ‘I’m so happy, but please don’t cry,'” Lourdes...
Bedeviled by an elbow, but blessed with arms
Bedeviled by an elbow, but blessed with arms

The New York Mets all but encased their starting pitchers in Bubble Wrap early in spring training, hoping that reduced wear and tear would preserve their arms. But pitching injuries seem unavoidable, and the Mets are as vulnerable as any team. “We came in here saying we’ve got to try to keep these guys healthy,” manager Terry Collins...
More Stories