The Austin Aztex Project - “Healing Old Wounds, Moving Forward”
Planting the Seed of Soccer Across America: Danny Beerseed
On May 5th, 2012 a soccer ball was kicked again by a semi-professional soccer club from Austin, Texas. On a high school field in East Texas the Austin Aztex recorded a convincing 4-0 victory, signaling their return to the American soccer scene.
Abandoned by its owner and his club for Orlando in 2010, the city was left with few live, local soccer options. Less than one year later, the Austin Aztex, the same as the previous departed team, announced it's formation. Under new ownership the Aztex would begin their journey in the United Soccer League's Professional Development League (PDL).
The building of soccer in the United States is not without dangers and pitfalls, but with great risk comes the potential for reward. The Free Beer Movement will follow the trials and tribulations as the Austin Aztex try to re-weave themselves into the city's fabric and win over the hearts and minds of the soccer, and larger, community.
We present... 'Building American Soccer: The Austin Aztex Project".
The project will follow the team from three different perspectives and several times throughout the season:
1. The Ownership/Front Office (today)
2. Coaching/ Tactics (tomorrow)
3. Fans/ Supporters Groups/ Game Day (next week)
David Markley is a man whose personality and passion make him larger than life. At any Aztex event he greets anyone that approaches him with the warmest of smiles and the sturdiest of hand shakes. His eyes, bright and beaming, like each individual is his best friend.
And that description might not be entirely misleading. Markley wants his team, the re-launched Austin Aztex, to be your team. He wants to create a relationship between his team and the city that is deep. Markley is not some slick businessman, but about as genuine as can be in conversation. He'll admit mistakes, ask for advice, and talk to you as if you're his equal. Of course, Markley is a businessman, (Vice President of Product Development at Fallbrook Technologies, an engineering firm in Austin) so he's always looking to push his product, and this time that product is live, local soccer in Central Texas, but more importantly he is someone who is deeply interested in seeing soccer succeed in this city.
In talking with Markley at a North Austin soccer bar recently, it was clear that tying soccer, the Aztex, and Austin together is his number one goal.
Markley has a lot of work to do. Launching an American soccer team in any place is difficult enough, but this new Austin team has to heal old wounds as well. This isn't a new market for professional soccer, but one recovering from its previous team picking up and skipping town with hardly any notice or evidence that there was trouble. Markley is bringing up a team under a cloud of old pain and lingering suspicion.
While Markley understood that the departure of the original Aztex was a "business decision" he made no effort to hide his disappointment that majority owner Phil Rawlins didn't do more to try and keep the team in Austin.
"I didn't know about it (the move) until slightly before Phil left," he recalled.
Markley's task is to convince the Austin soccer community (and potential sponsors) that this time the Aztex are here to stay. That even though they had been burned before this time will be different. The first problem is that some didn't even know they even left in the first place.
"When the Aztex left town we lost a lot of momentum, but all is not lost. We gained a lot of experience in running a team."
He emphasized that the "key ingredient" going forward in re-building soccer in Austin would be "trust".
Nearly as quickly as the team had departed Markley, the only minority owner left in Austin, began to explore the possibility of bringing a team back. By the spring of 2011 Markley initiated talks with United Soccer Leagues.
The choice to stick with the name "Aztex" was an interesting one for Markley and his staff. On one hand, for many of the most passionate supporters of the previous team, the Aztex name dripped with bitterness. But for the larger Austin soccer community is was about name recognition and continuity. That being said, the red and white stripes of Aztex 1.0 (a symbol of previous owner Rawlin's seat on the Stoke City board) and the crest was out, and navy blue and gold in a new crest were in. Even the name was slightly changed. In the crest there was an emphasis placed on "ATX", the shorthand for Austin.
"We wanted to put the ATX back in the Aztex," said Markley. "We worked through over 600 different names (back in 2008) before settling on Aztex and there wasn't a lot of desire in going back and doing that again. There is a value in brand recognition with the Aztex name. We wanted to emphasize the postive, on-field aspects of the original Aztex."
And so the "new team with the same name" was announced to the public in the summer of 2011. In November, Markley and the Aztex debuted the team's manager, Paul Dalglish.
Dalglish, the son of Liverpool legend and current manager Kenny, was a journeyman of sorts in the professional leagues of Scotland and England before signing with the Houston Dynamo where he was a part of two Major League Soccer Cup winning sides in 2006 and 2007. He then was the manager for the USL side Tampa Rowdies in 2010 before leaving the team by mutual consent after missing the playoffs in their inaugural season. He returned to Texas in 2011 taking a job as the Director of Soccer for Lake Travis Soccer Club (an arm of the Dynamo Juniors program) and then later technical director for the Central Texas youth soccer club, the Lonestars.
Markley had his sights set on Dalglish from the start as the coach for the Aztex saying, "He was in my proposal with the league".
"I felt like Paul could be a good coach for our PDL team."
But Dalglish was just the tip of the iceberg of the new Aztex coaching staff that would span years of experience and several different countries of origin and, most importantly, not offend the delicate sensibilies of the byzantine network of youth soccer clubs in the Austin-area. Coaches were brought in from several of these youth clubs not only for their expertise, but as to not indicate any preference for one club over another. Something that plagued the Aztex 1.0.
"When you get these guys together you've got guys who've played in Europe, MLS, MLS Cup, NASL, the old Lone Stars," Markley added. "We've got Latino outreach (in our coaches), the ability to connect with youth clubs, diversity, and broad experience of playing and coaching at high levels.
In addition to the PDL Aztex side, the club will also field a Super-20 team in USL led by longtime Austinite and former U.S. Under- 20 National Team coach Wolfgang Suhnholz.
"This is Austin's soccer team."
Markley is nothing if not optimistic about the potential for success in Austin despite the false start under the original Aztex.
"I believe it can work in Austin. We just need to re-invest in Austin soccer. We can do it right. It is a professional soccer market," he said.
"This is a PDL team with pro intentions." (Editor's Note: Markley wasn't talking MLS... just looking towards getting out of the developmental league and into USL proper or NASL)
One of the first tasks in preparing for the season is connecting with a number of sponsors and companies that were left just as high and dry as Markley was himself.
His personal relationships with many Aztex fans, former staff members, and local business were a "catalyst" for him to try and bring a team back to Austin.
Already many of those business bridges burned have been rebuilt. The Aztex have inked a deal to be outfitted by Admiral Sportswear and landed a jersey sponsor in "Emergo Group", an Austin-based firm. Re-negotiating the deal with the Austin school district to play at the downtown and familiar House Park was huge as well for the organization.
Markley's goal is to make the Aztex as much a part of the city's fabric as the Texas Longhorns or its live music.
"This is Austin's soccer team," he said. "The key is the difference in understanding local markets and American sports, especially soccer."
"It's going to look and feel different than the British model," Markley said, perhaps a subtle dig at how the previous team was run and marketed.
This team has to be "accessible to everyone in Austin and emulate Austin", particularly in reaching Austin's increasingly diverse citizens.
With a little more than a week to go before the Austin Aztex make their first (home) appearance since their untimely departure two years ago, all of these issues remain on the front burner and whether or not soccer in Austin is either a pipe dream or just one waiting to be realized hangs in the balance.
David Markley has faith. It will be up to the rest of the Austin soccer community to decide if it's ready to renew its own faith.
TOMORROW: Paul Dalglish is at the helm of the Aztex, but how to do create a team out of nothing? And what do you do when there's finally a team sheet?
Photo Credits: All photos courtsey of the Austin Aztex
Check out all the great FBM gear in our "Swag Store".
Tags: Austin Aztex Project
Check out all the great FBM gear in our "Swag Store".blog comments powered by Disqus