The Capitol serves as a backdrop as cars zoom past House Park and thousands of fans begin to pack the home stands. It’s an American football field but for Austin’s Premier Development League soccer team, it’s a makeshift pitch.
The Austin Aztex have been the Texas capital’s lone source for professional soccer since 2011. In their infancy the Aztex have been successful, the team claimed its first PDL championship in 2013. With one game remaining in the 2014 season, they have already clenched the PDL Mid South division and have been chosen to host the PDL’s Southern Conference Championships.
With Austin’s success, the team will jump to the United Soccer League in 2015 with the ultimate goal of one day becoming a Major League Soccer team. But the jump to a new league will require an increase in fan attendance.
At the Atzex latest game Friday, attendance was a season-high 2,380, far above the PDL average but well below the USL average. According to a recent statement by USL President Tim Holt, the league’s average attendance is between 3,000 to 4,000 fans.
The lack of fans is a concern for the Aztex, especially after Austin lost its previous USL Division II team when it moved to Orlando, Florida.
Fans may not be coming to Aztex games at House Park because it doesn’t provide a professional atmosphere; primarily because the Aztex can’t sell alcohol at House Park. As a result, the ownership is looking for a new place to play. Austin signed a short-term deal with House Park to continue playing in its current facility until 2015. But the Aztex are considering the Kelly Reeves Complex in North Austin and Burger Center in South Austin once they make the move to the USL. The team hopes to one day build a soccer-specific stadium, a part of their plan to make the leap to MLS.
Despite the attendance concern, the current wave of World Cup fever has brought a new group of fans to House Park. While it may not be the typical soccer pitch, the fans have found a way to create a fun and energetic environment at House Park.
Eberly’s Army, the team’s fan club, can be heard throughout Aztex games chanting and rooting the team on. During the team’s most recent game, a contest with the Midland-Odessa Sockers, the fans could be heard yelling American soccer’s signature chant, “I believe that we will win!” In the end, the Aztex fought their way back to tie, a result that they could live with, especially after the team’s sloppy play.
When asked about the atmosphere created by the fans, all head coach Manuel Buentello could do was smile and credit them for giving the team a spark when they need it.
While soccer may not be as popular as football, the Austin Aztex have provided a soccer haven for fans throughout Central Texas.