Austin Aztex owners will bring a taste of Major League Soccer to town with a four-team, mid-February tournament involving three MLS clubs.
D.C. United, Columbus Crew SC and FC Dallas will join the Aztex for the ATX Pro Challenge at Mike A. Myers Stadium on the University of Texas campus, the American-Statesman learned Saturday night.
The preseason event — Austin’s first experience with top-quality U.S. soccer — will consist of a semifinal doubleheader Friday, Feb. 13, and a championship and consolation match Feb. 15. The first-day pairings are Crew SC vs. FC Dallas and D.C. United vs. the Aztex.
“We are on a mission to turn Austin into a soccer city, and why not kick off the Aztex preseason big by hosting three top MLS clubs in our inaugural tournament?” Aztex CEO Rene van de Zande said.
“This is a great opportunity for Austin to witness four high-level soccer games over the course of three days in the heart of the city. We hope that many fans will come out.”
General admission tickets for the ATX Pro Challenge will start at $20 for a Friday pass, $30 for a Sunday pass or $40 for the four-game weekend. Tickets will go on sale Jan. 9 at www.TexasSports.com or through the Texas Box Office.
Aztex ownership aims to one day lure an MLS franchise to Austin. For now, the Aztex, a power in the lower-rung Premier Development League, are stepping up in 2015 to the second-level USL Pro, which partners with MLS.
Austin reached an affiliate agreement last month with Columbus that will provide the Aztex with up to four top prospects.
MLS training camps open in January for a season that starts in March. Aztex camp will begin Feb. 1.
“This tournament is a bold testimony to our commitment to bring the highest levels of soccer to Central Texas,” said Bobby Epstein, Aztex board member and chairman of Circuit of the Americas.
“February 13 will introduce the professional Aztex to the community and will showcase the largest major-league competition ever in our area.”
House Park (capacity: 6,000), the Aztex’s current home, is not large enough to handle the event, so the team struck a deal with UT to use 20,000-seat Myers Stadium.
“There was strong cooperation between UT and the Aztex,” said Jeffrey Burns, Aztex director of marketing. “Despite not having many open dates, the university was very welcoming. We’re excited about it because Myers has a large capacity, a grass field and a view of the city.”
Burns added that beer sales don’t hurt, either.
The Aztex did not disclose financial details, but Burns acknowledged, “Ownership is taking a big financial risk, yet we feel Austin is ready for the opportunity to show its support for professional soccer.”
D.C. United is perhaps the most successful U.S. soccer franchise, a four-time MLS Cup champion and three-time U.S. Open Cup winner that finished atop the Eastern Conference standings in 2014.
Columbus, the MLS’s first franchise, won the league in 2008 and has taken four MLS Supporters Shield titles.
FC Dallas finished fourth in the West last season and reached the playoffs.
ATX Pro Challenge
What: Four-team preseason tournament with three MLS clubs and the Aztex.
When: Feb. 13 and 15
Where: Myers Stadium (20,000), University of Texas campus
Tickets: Start at $20 for Friday, $30 for Sunday and $40 for full pass.
Friday, Feb. 13
Columbus Crew SC vs. FC Dallas, 5:45 p.m.
Austin Aztex vs. D.C. United, 8 p.m.
Sunday, Feb. 15
Third-place game, 1 p.m.
Championship, 3:15 p.m.