A Bold new club will join the USL in 2019.
With expansion news coming hot and heavy recently, We, Brian Cook and Richard Rainwater, are taking a look at each of the new teams gearing up to begin play in the USL. We will be covering the teams already announced to join the league and will be looking at how the teams can be successful, what struggles they face, and what we think the outcomes will be.
It’s the Expansion Ramble! We will start with the boldest announcement thus far, Austin Bold FC.
Announced to begin play in 2019, USL was poised for it’s return to Austin well before a certain owner decided that American soccer didn’t have enough villains. The team is looking to build a soccer-specific stadium at the Circuit of Americas track in the city, with the team being led by the track’s chairman Bobby Epstein. After two previous attempts at cracking this market have fallen short, owners feel that the time they have spent planning the launch, along with the stadium situation, will set them up for long-term success.
What will make this team successful?
The previous team had flooding issues at their last venue, so a new stadium in a new location will really build a strong foundation. With the prolonged fight over the potential move of Columbus Crew (#savethecrew) to the city, this group has done well to steer as far away from it as possible. If they are successful on the field, make a deep cup run in the first couple years, and play meaningful games when the cooler weather hits, they should be able to turn out fans of the Aztecs, as well as new fans of the surrounding area that may not want to travel into the city.
This team can really market itself aggressively in Austin, especially because it is the only guaranteed team to begin play in 2019. While it has been smart to avoid getting dragged into the mess Precourt is making up to this point, now would be a good time to let fans know that they already have a team that is building a stadium with private money, on private land, and is only asking for their support (and not their tax dollars).
USL Austin might be the most interesting expansion side coming into USL for me. With the team coming into a market that has previously failed, you wouldn’t think that someone would be interested in that area again. Wrong. The excitement is the new chance for the city of Austin to get professional soccer in their city again. In addition, USL Austin has this below tweet in its favor.
— John Bava III (@LWOSJohnBava) July 31, 2018
The irony of the USL expansion side (which has no attachment to Columbus Crew’s potential move) having a more ideal location for their stadium than MLS Austin could be a nice trophy it holds over it’s head before it drops a ball on the field.
The positives of this launch will be if USL Austin pushes away from anything to do with a potential MLS team coming to Austin. The cloud and the darkness that MLS has cast over the potential move of the Columbus Crew moving to Austin Texas can only do damage to a new team.
Austin Bold FC’s biggest benefit is the fact they are not only focusing more on the community of Austin than anything else, but they are willing to make big steps to make bigger splashes in USL. The potential signing of Usain Bolt is an exciting bit of news that signals bold intentions for a bold team in Austin, Texas.
What will make this team struggle?
The location of CoA makes it difficult to take full advantage of the college scene in the heart of the city. While the team may be successful in attracting suburban fans, we have seen many MLS sides struggle to break through with that model (FC Dallas, Chicago Fire, New England Revolution). For a team to really break through, being out-of-sight can often lead to being out-of-mind as well.
Previous USL failures in the city shouldn’t be ignored, either. While I would argue that this league is entirely different from the one the Aztex played in, casual fans may not be quick to split such hairs. Fans of different sports may be quick to jump on the “minor-league” label, and I’d be shocked if Precourt doesn’t use that to his advantage. The team will be under a lot of pressure to be successful on the field from the beginning and that is incredibly difficult for any new team to accomplish.
Finally, there’s the heat. Any team playing in Texas struggles to deal with the American soccer schedule of March/April to November/December. Temperatures regularly hit triple digits and even MLS sides have had a hard time filling the stands. Looking at the rendering of the stadium in CoA, there doesn’t appear to be any covers over the stands. At all. If you are targeting families with a soccer team that plays in the Texas summers, you should probably protect them from the sun. Weather will play a far greater role in keeping fans away than MLS or Precourt if they don’t figure that out.
I think the biggest obstacle in front of Austin Bold FC would honestly be themselves. Fans in this area are being primed and ready for a potential MLS team and being a USL team might actually hurt them. That’s not to say the team doesn’t have a chance to move up to MLS eventually but fans expectations might keep them from attending matches for a lesser team.
If the Crew doesn’t end up moving to Austin (and end up staying in Columbus, Ohio) Austin Bold FC still has a shadow of MLS still having desires to move a team into the area. Whether they pick up the phone and call Austin Bold FC or not, USL has to pay attention to those metrics in that market.
What do you think is most likely with this team: MLS Expansion, Successful D-2, Future D-3 Superstars, Soon-to-be ghost of American soccer past?
This is a tough one and it relies on a lot of ifs. If Precourt fails to bring the Crew to Austin, MLS expansion is not out of the picture. The league loves the city and may see the promotion of an existing club as a way to get the market they want without all of the bad publicity. If the Crew are in Austin in 2019, my heart would love a D-2 powerhouse to meet them. But I could easily see USL D-3 in their future if the issues above aren’t addressed.
It’s nerve-wracking, isn’t it? The last team to be in that market now play in their own stadium in Orlando, Florida. Nevertheless, there is a desire for professional soccer in that area. People want it, someone is willing to fund it, so it’s not terribly shocking to see them be a successful D2 side. I think it really depends on what we see from Austin in years three, four, and five. They have the potential to be a strong division two side but can easily drop down to D3 depending on the circumstances of the market.
Let us know your thoughts on how Austin Bold will fare in USL play. Follow us @BGNwritten, and let us know how right (or wrong) our predictions will be.