Big and Bold.
The new United Soccer League team in town revealed Friday morning it will be Austin Bold FC, dress in jerseys with colors of teal, gold and black — think Jacksonville Jaguars — and showcase experienced international players, including a one-named Brazilian striker known as the Gladiator.
While the Austin City Council haggles over a deal that would bring Major League Soccer here for 2019, the Bold FC will launch next year in a 5,000-seat stadium at Circuit of the Americas expected to be completed by mid-January. The Division II-level USL season starts in mid-March.
Bobby Epstein, the COTA chairman and Bold majority owner, laid down the first challenge to the MLS owners, who are trying to move Columbus Crew SC into a new North Austin stadium.
“If the Domain Crew get their act together and are actually here next year, we want to play them … and we’ll kick their ass,” Epstein told the American-Statesman.
For now, the Crew SC owners just hope they scrounge up enough votes at next Thursday’s City Council meeting to complete a stadium deal for the city-owned McKalla Place property. Regardless, Austin will now have a pro team in 2019 after three years of going dark when the USL Aztex folded after their debut season.
Epstein has said it’s unlikely two pro teams can co-exist in Austin, but right now he’s got the only sure thing, and he’s coming on strong.
“We want to win, and we want to win now,” Epstein said. “That is evident by our early signings. They are veteran players and a coach who have accomplished a great deal.”
Brazilian native Marcelo Serrano, a former assistant coach in the U.S. national program who coaches the U.S. Virgin Islands national team, will call the shots for the Bold, and he’ll have serious samba firepower. The three player signings announced Friday:
• Kléber, whose full name is Kléber Freitas, is a huge acquisition. The 34-year-old is a big name in Brazil. He has scored 172 professional goals playing for premier Brazilian clubs and Ukrainian giant Dynamo Kiev. He became known as the Gladiator for his fiery nature and warrior mentality, and his U.S. signing is quite a surprise in his native country.
• Edson Braafheid, a 35-year-old defender, played for the Netherlands in the 2010 World Cup championship match against Spain. Braafheid, born in Suriname, has extensive playing time in the German Bundesliga, one of the premier leagues in the world, and the Dutch Eredivisie, that nation’s top league.
• Marcelo Saragosa, a 36-year-old Brazilian midfielder, logged nine years in MLS and won an MLS Cup championship with the Los Angeles Galaxy and three U.S. Open Cup titles with the Galaxy, FC Dallas and DC United.
More player signings are to come, especially late this fall after 2018 contracts expire in MLS and USL.
Usain Bolt is still a possibility. The World’s Fastest Man, who aims to give soccer a try, is weighing an offer from the Bold against opportunities in Las Vegas and Australia.
The Bold also are hoping to sign 15-year-old winger Julian Gaines of Round Rock, one of the top young players in Central Texas, but details need to be worked out.
USL Chief Operating Officer Justin Papadakis, among an estimated 250 guests at Friday’s launch, acknowledges the MLS elephant in the room but points to Epstein’s track record at COTA.
“Bobby knows how to put on live entertainment, whether it’s F1, X Games, major musical acts, and he’s a local guy committed to this being Austin’s team,” Papadakis said. “With Bobby’s resources, I expect he’ll field a competitive team. I think you can have a fantastic atmosphere at this facility. We know the Austin Bold will be playing next year. The other stuff, we don’t know about.”
Papadakis pointed out there will be four Texas USL teams in ’19 — San Antonio, Rio Grande Valley and expansion franchises Austin and El Paso — “so you could have some pretty amazing derby matches in Texas.”
Serrano and his three veterans each made a point of saying the Austin franchise appealed to them because they want to be a part of building something unique in a desirable city that did not have pro soccer.
“Can you imagine playing inside Circuit of the Americas, a Formula One venue?” said Saragosa. “This is something special. I like to be involved with new projects. This project is beautiful. I want to lead by example, grab this opportunity and have others follow me here.”
Bold FC General Manager Roberto Silva is counting on exactly that.
“All three of these players are leaders who have lots of contacts and friends in the sport,” Silva said. “They will help us recruit other top players. That is a big part of how this all comes together.”