Premier Development League

Photo Credit: Charlie Pearce | Daily Texan Staff

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.

The Austin Aztex lead all USL PDL teams in goals scored with 39 goals in 14 games played.

Photo Credit: Pu Ying Huang | Daily Texan Staff

Although the 2012 season is the Austin Aztex’s first campaign in the USL Premier Development League, the team has quickly become one of the league’s best.

With just two games remaining in the regular season, the Aztex (8-4-2) are as hot as any of the 73 teams in the Premier Development League and could clinch a playoff berth with a win in their final two games.

Composed of mostly college athletes who are on summer break, the Aztex are currently in second place in the Mid South Division of the league’s Southern Conference with 26 points.

In their season finale at House Park this past weekend, the Aztex treated the crowd of nearly 2,000 to a 7-0 drubbing of the lowly West Texas Sockers (2-6-6). The win was the fifth time the Aztex have scored more than three goals in a game this season, all of which have resulted in wins. In the past two games alone, the Aztex have scored a total of 13 goals, while only allowing one.

A big part of this late season surge can be accredited to the play of two young forwards, Kris Tyrpak and Kekuta Manneh.

Tyrpak currently attends Houston Baptist University on a soccer scholarship and said he is glad to have the opportunity to showcase his talent during the summer months.

“All the top players from Division I, II and III colleges come to the PDL, and the teams are loaded with talent,” said Tyrpak.

The 20-year-old Dripping Springs High School graduate is a rising amateur star within the league and currently sits in third place for overall points scored this season with 23. In the 7-0 win to close out the regular season home schedule, he scored early and often, resulting in his second hat trick of the year. His first came in the home opener against the El Paso Patriots in May.

“It feels good to end the season at home with a hat trick like that,” Tyrpak said. Even with a 4-0 halftime lead over the Sockers, Tyrpak said head coach Paul Dalglish told the team to “keep it classy, don’t do anything stupid and try to get a couple more goals for the fans.”

Tyrpak’s partner in crime at forward, 17-year-old Kekuta Manneh, has already caught the eye of the Los Angeles Galaxy of the MLS, who invited the Lake Travis High junior out to L.A. for a week of practice at the beginning of the summer.

“They just wanted me to practice with the team and see how I fit in,” Manneh said. “I would love to play soccer for a living, but for now, my focus is on school.”

In just 11 games this year, Manneh has scored 10 goals and notched nine assists.

“It’s a good experience playing with Kekuta, because I know he’s going to go on to do bigger and better things at the highest level of soccer,” Tyrpak said. “It’s an honor to play alongside him.”

The duo of Tyrpak and Manneh has asserted itself as two of the most productive players in the Premier Development League. If they decide to continue to play with the Aztex in coming years, they could help the club establish a national presence and foster future player development.

As of now, the Aztex have their sights set on the playoffs, which will pit them against a Southeast Division opponent. The top two teams from each of the nine divisions of the league will advance to the playoffs in which the higher-seeded team gets home field advantage.

The Aztex are also the league leaders in goals scored at home with 25, so they would relish the opportunity of a home playoff game.

“We are looking forward to the playoffs, but we still have some work to do to be in the best position,” Manneh said. “Hopefully we can come back to play some games at home — the crowd really gets behind us.”

Chuy Cortes dribbles past an El Paso Patriots defender during a recent game at House Park.

Photo Credit: Pu Ying Huang | Daily Texan Staff

It’s easy to become a spoiled soccer fan as the UEFA European Championships are ubiquitously broadcast on the ESPN family of networks and we’re all treated to exciting matches between Europe’s top teams. Some of the best players in the world are on display, and we’re all reminded just how good Spain’s midfield is. But it’s also easy to overlook the fact that there is another exciting team to watch right in our backyard.

The Austin Aztex aren’t going to feature any of the world’s best footballers, or draw crowds bigger than a few thousand people, but what they do bring is an intensity and energy level that is lost in some levels of the sport. Europe may be home to some of the highest skilled players to ever dribble a ball, but domestically, the Aztex are nothing to scoff at. A member of the Mid-South division within the United Soccer League’s Premier Development League, the Aztex are in the middle of their inaugural season and own a record of 4-3-2. The team plays all of its 16 games between May and July, and is comprised of unpaid amateurs hoping to make a professional roster.

The Aztex called Austin home once before back in 2008, but were relocated when former owner Phil Rawlins moved the franchise to Orlando, Fla. to become Orlando City Soccer Club before the move in 2010, the Aztex provided Austinites with a legitimate soccer team that looked as if it was poised to grow in coming years and possibly earn promotion into the top league in the U.S. soccer pyramid, the MLS.

Currently playing in the fourth division of U.S. soccer, the Aztex have once again positioned themselves for promotion. It hasn’t taken long for fans of the Aztex, new and old, to rehash their support for the team after a short hiatus. Led by coach Paul Dalglish, a former player for England’s Newcastle United and Blackpool F.C., the Aztex employ a style of play very reminiscent to European teams. Dalglish is no stranger to winning either, having captured two MLS titles in 2006 and 2007 as a member of the Houston Dynamo. He took over as head coach at the beginning of this season and has turned the team into a contender in just his first year.

The Aztex play their home games in cozy House Park, a 6,500 seat stadium situated in the historic Judges’ Hill neighborhood. Originally erected in 1939 and still home to the Austin High football and soccer teams, House Park provides the Aztex with an intimate gameday atmosphere that doesn’t exist in the PDL. The 6,500 seats are rarely filled, but it doesn’t take much for House Park to turn into a hostile environment for opposing teams. The distance between the field and the fans is no more than 10 feet, and coincidentally, it is those fans who sit closest to the action that are the most vocal during games. There does exist a small contingent of “rowdies” that do their best to distract the opposition, and of course give the officials a piece of their collective mind on occasion. This interaction between the fans and what is happening on the pitch has always been an experience unique to soccer and it gives House Park a genuine feel, not to mention the gorgeous downtown backdrop and uncanny summer breeze that makes it a near perfect venue for the Aztex.

If the Aztex continue to grow as a franchise, they can one day dream of becoming a part of MLS. But in order to reach the pinnacle of U.S. soccer, the team would likely have to part ways with its current home field to accommodate more fans and vendors. But for now, House Park remains home for the Aztex and will continue to provide fans with a fun and welcoming experience that can’t be duplicated.

Austin Aztex’s manager Paul Dalgish (left) shakes the hand of owner David Markley (right) after they announced the team was coming to Austin. (Photo courtesy of Austin Aztex)

Soccer will return to Texas' Capitol this summer after a previous partial owner of the Austin Aztex founded a new Aztex soccer club for Austinites.

The original Austin team, circa 2008-2010, left to play in Orlando, leaving a gaping hole for soccer fans in the city. David Markley, who was the previous minority owner, is now the majority owner and is planning to make sure soccer in Austin is here to stay.

Like the previous Aztex team, the new squad will compete initially in the Premier Development League (PDL), meaning the club will be comprised primarily of players who are from the local area or play collegiate level soccer. The team will compete at an amateur level and players will not be paid in accordance to NCAA rules, which do not allow student-athletes to hold onto their scholarship and receive payment for playing their sport.

With the club starting off as an amateur squad, it is possible for UT students who are interested in playing soccer to make the team. Tryouts will be held in March under the watchful eye of manager Paul Dalglish.

If the name Dalglish rings a bell for soccer fans, it is probably because of his father Kenny Dalglish, who manages the famous club, Liverpool FC. Kenny Dalglish ended his legendary playing career with Liverpool in 1990. Fans may also recall Paul from his playing days with the Houston Dynamo, where he helped that club win consecutive MLS Cups in 2006 and 2007.

While fans of soccer in Austin might understandably be wary of a new team because of what happened with the first Aztex club, Markley has said this is ‘Austin's team’ and is focused on creating a team for talented local players.

“For starters, I am just a fan and I live in Austin, so my interest in bringing a team to Austin was partly so my friends and I could have a place to watch high quality soccer,” Markley said. “As I really got to know players locally, I realized there was a lot of talent here. Realizing the number of local players we have that are talented, I wanted to create an opportunity for those players to be able to play their way up to the professional ranks.”

The previous Austin club had a history of helping talented young soccer players find their way to the next level, including 21 of the players who played on the under-23 squad from 2008-2009 moving on to professional rosters, including the top level of soccer. Former Aztex players, Austin da Luz (DC United) and Matt Gold (Toronto FC) play for Major League Soccer clubs, and ex-Aztex player Euan Holden (Stockport County) competes abroad in Europe.

Obviously, the new Aztex team will want to emulate what the previous side was able to do as far as generating player talent. Paul Dalglish, the Aztex manager, who previously had a stint coaching professionally in Tampa Bay, plans on using his familiarity of playing soccer at the highest level in England, Scotland and America to help his players turn into professionals.

“My experience as a player does not necessarily make me a good coach, but it means you understand what it takes to get to the top,” Paul Dalglish said. “That is something that hopefully we will be trying to pass on to our players: that knowledge of what is required and hopefully some of the players in the future will get to where I got to, and hopefully higher.”

In Paul Dalglish, the Aztex have a manager who wants to create a Barcelona-esque possession style of attack that is enjoyable for anyone observing from the stands. Born in Glasgow, Scotland, he will be part of the melting pot of Austin and soccer the Aztex want to be considered as a staple of their organization.

That diversity is something Arch Bell, a local freelance soccer writer working for ESPN.com and host of a local bilingual soccer show called Futbol En Vivo on 91.7 FM, has suggested that the previous Aztex team failed to do.

“I think first and foremost what is imperative is that they reach out to the Hispanic community in town,” Bell said. “That is something the previous Aztex failed to do, and really engaging with Jorge Iturralde, who does the sports on Telemundo. He also has a show on Club Deportes on 92.5 FM, which is ESPN Deportes, and he has a very good following and a lot of listeners and a good base there.”

Bell continued on saying if the Aztex work with Iturralde they could have his followers show up to the games. He also suggests having more Hispanic players on the team than the previous Aztex team would also attract more fans. The previous Aztex only Hispanic player was the keeper.

The new Aztex club is already making an effort to reach out to the Hispanic community in Austin. Their website is in English and Spanish, and the possession style of play Paul Dalglish wants to engage in is Latin-based. The only thing left is identifying local Hispanic players to play for the club.

Markley is also looking to create diversity within the soccer organization as well by including multiple ethnicities in key, decision-making positions on the team's staff.

“One thing we are tying to do very intentionally is make it very accessible to a broad demographic,” Markley said. “We really do not want to have all players form one club or all one style of player. Austin is a melting pot and I want it to be reflected on the field. It is going to be reflected that way both in our coaching staff and in our players.”

The PDL team is heading in the right direction to echo a multiplicity of races. A local supporters group, Eberly's Army, is part of the variety of soccer fans and they are happy to have soccer back in Austin.

“It means a lot. It is something that after the previous Aztex left for Orlando, we did not think we would get a team to support back in Austin this quickly,” said Matthew Gray, ‘the Gaffer’ of Eberly's Army. “In fact, many of us felt like it would be many years before anybody was willing to invest not only the time but the money to put a team here so soon.”

Markley quickly changed that and he will make the dreams of Eberly's Army and other soccer fans come true a lot sooner than they thought when the Aztex play their first game home game in mid-May.

Printed on Wednesday, January 25, 2012 as: Aztex's return brings soccer back to Austin