Aztex Make House Park Home
An Austin Aztex 2010 primer
OMG. The season proper gets started this Sunday, and you're not ready for it? Not to worry. Here's all you need to know about the current incarnation of our local professional soccer squad.
So, how cool is it to be playing in the "new" stadium?
That's an easy one. Everyone around the team is excited about the move to House Park because of the central location, the proximity to the businesses around Lamar and 12th Street, and the homier vibe of the facility in general. But the biggest factor is that with no track around the field, the stands are right on top of the sideline, and the atmosphere is a lot more intimate. Yes, it's still artificial turf and lined for gridiron, but goalkeeper Miguel Gallardo says the surface is more forgiving than the rock-hard turf at Nelson Field, and he's the one who has to throw his body onto it all the time, so I'll take his word for it.
Who should I watch?
Depends what you like. The easy answer would be Sullivan Silva. Starting his third year here, the Brazilian-born winger definitely has the moves – step-overs and dazzling changes of pace and direction – plus the style and charm that make him a fan favorite. A goalkeeping aficionado, on the other hand, will love Gallardo – his physical play and shot-stopping skills, but even more his command of the box and marshalling of the defense. Kieron Bernard is a big physical presence in central defense, and coaches are very high on new wing defender Leonard Griffin. Among a lot of talent up front, Eddie Johnson stands out – the team's leading scorer last year and my pick for player of the year.
Who are the starting 11?
Head Coach Adrian Heath isn't ready to say, though he's got it set in his head, he says. But the back line is confirmed: Gallardo in goal, Bernard and Jay Needham in middle, and Griffin and Kevin Sakuda on the wings.
What happened to the amateur Premier Development League team?
I've got to think it didn't make much sense economically to operate two start-up soccer teams in the same market. I'll miss the Aztex U-23s; they were the original Aztex, after all, plus the senior squad got a few valuable call-ups from them last year. On the other hand, the rest of that PDL division is still there, and the Aztex can presumably fill emergency roster spots from that player pool; they've already created an affiliation with the West Texas United Sockers in Midland.
Will the Aztex have enough depth this year?
That was a big problem last year, as injuries (and immigration issues) wore the squad down during a grueling stretch of midseason games. Was it a coincidence that the Aztex gave up so many crucial goals late in games in the second half of the season? So, yes, it's a concern that there are currently only 16 players under contract. But a few more will be added soon, I'm assured, and there are lots of unsigned players available. It's been a chaotic preseason, as a recently resolved labor impasse with Major League Soccer players had a trickle-down effect on all levels of U.S. soccer. Not to mention the unrest within the league.
Yeah! What's this league we're in? The USSF Division II? What happened to the USL?
Long story, but during the offseason, most of the USL-1 teams tried to defect and form a new league (with an old name): the North American Soccer League. Others, including the Aztex, stayed loyal to the United Soccer Leagues. Lawsuits. Countersuits. The U.S. Soccer Federation stepped in to force everyone to play nice – for one year. What's next? No one knows. What's clear is that this current lineup of teams is a legitimate and strong second-division soccer league. It will be in everyone's best interest if the bulk of these teams stays together under whatever leadership they can all accept.
Who are the top teams in the league?
"The usual suspects," says gaffer Heath, ticking them off on his fingers. "Montreal, Puerto Rico, Vancouver, Portland." They've got a bigger salary structure and more resources. And Portland, Ore., and Vancouver are preparing for next year's jump to MLS, and Montreal's probably not far behind.
What do you expect from the Montreal Impact? This is the only time this season the home fans will see the defending league champions.
"They're one of the top teams in the league," Heath said. "They have twice the salary structure we do. But – you can put this in there – I think we're going to beat them."
So who is this Adrian Heath fellow?
In the UK, he's a huge star. He had an 18-year career with Stoke City, Everton, and others. He's in the Everton Hall of Fame and was recently honored again by the team on a return trip to Goodison Park. The Stoke connection with Aztex owner Phil Rawlins is what brought him here, and we're lucky to have him.
How's our English sister team, Stoke City?
Rawlins is part owner of Stoke City, and from the start, that relationship has been key to the Aztex's whole mission. And it's given Aztex fans a rooting interest in the world's biggest sports league. In the Aztex's three years in existence, Stoke has qualified for the Premiership for the first time, survived a relegation battle to stay up a second year, and at press time is in the top half of the standings in their sophomore season. Go Potters!
Are Aztex games going to be on TV? Radio?
All home games will be broadcast live on 1300AM the Zone (in addition, 101X will broadcast from the pregame gathering at the Tavern). The games will also be shown on the Lone Star Television Network, with a one-day delay – the Montreal game, for instance, will be broadcast Monday, April 11, 7pm. LSTV is available on Grande Communications.
What's the "open-ended" season ticket?
I love the new flexible format: You get 15 tickets for 15 home games, but each can be used at any regular season game. Miss a game? The ticket's not wasted, and you don't have to scramble to find a taker; just take a friend to a future game.
Where can you park near House Park?
There are two parking options at the stadium: A seasonlong parking pass ($50) puts you in the surface lot next to the stadium for all of the regular season, Open Cup, exhibition, and playoff games. Or, game day parking is $5 at the ACC multistory parking garage at 12th Street & Shoal Creek.
What about transit?
Buses from all over town cross within a few blocks of the stadium on the Guadalupe/Lavaca corridor; routes 3 and 9 come even closer. On a personal note, I couldn't be happier with Route 338, Lamar/45th, which runs within two blocks of both my house and the Chronicle office, goes right down Lamar, and stops conveniently across the street from the Tavern, where I will likely be spending a good deal of time this season. See www.capmetro.org.
What's the atmosphere like? Are there supporters' groups?
The most active supporters' group is Chantico's Army (www.chanticosarmy.com); they were the ones up in the corner of the stands last year with the drums and banners and noisemakers. This year, with the stands much closer to the field, the Aztex have designated the area directly behind the visitors' bench as the noise zone. It's a fun scene; if you want to add your voice, drum, horn, or glockenspiel, you won't have any trouble finding them (earplugs optional).
So are there songs I should learn before I go?
There are songs posted on the Chantico website. Study them; know them; be prepared.
What's this I heard about a real new stadium?
Well, that's an interesting story. Yes, it's very much still a part of the Aztex's plans for ….
Aztex Season Opener
Sunday, April 11, 6pm, House Park
• Hosting the reigning USL-1 champion, Montreal Impact
• Pregame fan gathering starting at 4:30pm at the Tavern (12th & Lamar)
• Postgame get-together at Cuatro's (1004 W. 24th) with staff and players in attendance
• See the full season schedule in Sports Listings.
Austin Aztex Current Roster
|G||Sean Kelley||USA||George Mason U.|
|D||Jay Needham||USA||Alta IF (Norway)|
|D||Leonard Griffin||USA||L.A. Galaxy|
|M/D||Lance Watson||USA||Kansas City Wizards|
|M||Lawrence Olum||KEN||Minnesota Thunder|
|F||Jamie Watson||USA||Wilmington (USL-2)|
|F||Kendell McFayden||USA||Aztex PDL|
|F||Maxwell Griffin||USA||L.A. Legends (PDL)|
USSF D-2 Pro League
NSC Minnesota Stars
Puerto Rico Islanders
Tampa Bay Rowdies
Crystal Palace Baltimore
AC St. Louis