Soccer Watch: Top 10 Soccer Stories of 2014
There were two really big soccer stories in Austin this year: The Austin Aztex transitioning from amateur to pro, and World Cup fever engulfing the town for a month mid-summer. Each could make a Top 10 list on its own.
1) Austin Aztex go pro, with an expanded ownership team The Aztex finished their three-year stint in the amateur Premier Development League with a flourish, then announced a move up to USL PRO, plus an expanded ownership team, that in turn enabled the big outdoor World Cup watch party at the Long Center, and the long-awaited biergarten at House Park. Then they brought back head coach Paul Dalglish, and recently announced their affiliation with the Columbus Crew, plus plans for a February tournament bringing three MLS teams to UT's Myers Stadium. That's a lot of big steps forward, and a good sign for the future of "Austin's Professional Sports Team."
2) World Cup fever takes over Austin Even just four years ago, it would've been reasonable to ask, "Where can I go to watch the World Cup?" This summer, the question was: "Is there any TV in town that isn't showing the World Cup?" All sorts of viewership and social media records fell, and just last week, Google reported that "World Cup" was the top trending search term in Austin for the year 2014.
3) Takeaway memories from WC2014: Brazil made everything work and were a charming host (hope it doesn't bankrupt them)... Defending champ Spain was swept away after just two games... The U.S.A. survived the group of death with style, flair, and another dramatic late goal... There were a ton of goals and beautiful goals, but Timmy Howard's astounding 16-save performance against Belgium was just one of a spectacular series of goalkeeper performances... The Luis Suarez biting incident: What is it about Italian defenders that makes opposing superstars see red?... Go CONCACAF! The U.S., Mexico, and Costa Rica all outperformed expectations... But in the end, Germany became the first European squad to win in the new world.
4) Landon Donovan was dropped from the U.S. World Cup squad by coach Jürgen Klinsmann, in one of the most controversial roster decisions in memory. The team pulled together admirably, and Donovan prospered as well, retiring on top after winning his record sixth MLS title with the LA Galaxy.
5) Plans for a futuristic stadium on an artificial island in the middle of Lady Bird Lake were exposed as being an Austin Chronicle April Fools' joke, but that, and a semi-aborted "Bring MLS to Austin" campaign, started a PR ball rolling. Where it goes from here is anyone's guess. But meanwhile...
6) Stadio della Roma, one of the most-anticipated stadium projects in the world, on the banks of the Tiber river, was announced mid-year; the project CEO is Mark Pannes at the Austin office of Raptor Accelerator.
7) NCAA Tourney x3 All three of Austin's NCAA programs – the UT Longhorn women and the St. Edward's men and women – made it to nationals – the first time that's ever happened. The Hilltopper men have benefitted from the Aztex's presence, and the Horns seemed to turn a corner in coach Angela Kelly's third year.
8) Leander's Vandegrift High School girls won the Austin area's first UIL state soccer championship, in April in Georgetown. What made national news, however, was video footage of a Georgetown PD officer tripping and shoving kids as they ran onto the field to celebrate. The officer was placed on administrative leave after the video made the 10 Most Shared list on USA Today Sports.
9) Spain is back They may have crapped out in the WC, but on the club level, Spanish teams made a comeback after being throttled by German clubs in last year's European Champions League. Real Madrid beat crosstown rival Atlético Madrid in the ECL final in May, swept through the Club World Cup in December, and is now being called one of the best teams ever.
10) U.S. Women are back A No. 1 ranking through much of the year didn't help the U.S.A. in the draw for next summer's Women's World Cup in Canada. Once again, we're in the Group of Death, with top 10s Sweden and Australia, plus Nigeria, the best team in Africa.