Sports

The Verde Report: Austin FC Is the Wake-Up Call Its Texas Rivals Needed

FC Dallas and the Houston Dynamo open their checkbooks to sweeten their rosters

New Houston Dynamo Designated Player Sebastián Ferreira participates in his first MLS training session
New Houston Dynamo Designated Player Sebastián Ferreira participates in his first MLS training session (Photo by Steve Hamlin / Houston Dynamo FC)

When Austin FC made its splashy entrance into Major League Soccer last year as the league's 27th franchise and its third in the state of Texas, many in the Lone Star State hoped the surrounding excitement would have a residual effect: Give the Verde's neighbors and their ownership a kick in the pants.

Over the past several years, both FC Dallas and the Houston Dynamo have become infamous for noncompetitive roster spending, and that penny pinching has routinely reflected in both the league standings and in the attendance figures. In July, the maligned Texas rivals watched as Austin FC shelled out $7 million to bring Sebastián Driussi to ATX, knowing that neither club had ever cracked half that amount on an incoming player's transfer fee.

Those days are now over. Both Houston and Dallas opened their checkbooks wide this week, completing club record transfers on a couple of exciting young South American attackers. The Dynamo on Tuesday announced the signing of 23-year-old Para­guayan forward Sebastián Ferreira from Club Libertad Asunción – where he won two Golden Boots as the Paraguayan league's top scorer – for a reported fee of $4.3 million. Meanwhile, FC Dallas – fresh off the $20 million sale of Ricardo Pepi to Augsburg in the German Bundesliga – is set to announce the acquisition of 19-year-old Argentine wunderkind Alan Velasco from Independiente for a fee between $6 million and $7.5 million, according to reports from Argentina.

High-profile transfers aren't the only ways Austin FC's older siblings have shaken things up since the Verde landed in MLS. Dallas fired head coach Luchi Gonzalez in September and hired former U.S. men's national team assistant Nico Estévez earlier this offseason. Houston, meanwhile, enters 2022 with wholesale change up and down the front office. There's a new majority owner in real estate mogul Ted Segal, a new general manager in Pat Onstad, and now a new head coach in Paulo Naga­mura, who replaces former U.S. men's national team player Tab Ramos. Ramos' contract was not renewed after the Dynamo finished just behind its two Texas rivals at the very bottom of the Western Conference.

All of the above suggests that, despite a nightmare 2021 for MLS in the state of Texas, all three clubs are at least pointed in the right direction for 2022. Austin FC, along with its passionate and demanding fan base, deserves much of the credit for that. Wouldn't it be nice if sometime soon the battle for Copa Tejas also decides the Supporters' Shield?

Preseason Schedule Set

The Oaks returned to the St. David's Performance Center this week for the beginning of preseason training. Austin FC will play at least four preseason games before the season kicks off in late February: Feb. 9 vs. Toronto FC at St. David's PC, Feb. 12 vs. the Dynamo in Houston, Feb. 16 vs. Mexican club Atlas FC at Q2 Stadium, and Feb. 19 vs. Chicago Fire FC at St. David's PC. The matches at St. David's PC are closed to the public ... though that didn't stop hordes of fans from peering over a nearby hill during scrimmages last season.

The club also announced five players who will go on trial with the club this preseason: defender Graham Smith, midfielder Milan Iloski, midfielder Dillon Powers, forward Veljko Petkovic, and defender Tony Rocha. Both Powers and Rocha previously played in Austin with the now-defunct Austin Aztex. Of the group, Petkovic is the most intriguing. The 21-year-old was a standout goalscorer at the University of Pittsburgh before being dismissed from the team in November for reasons not made public.

Make Your Soccer Dreams Come True

Think you can be a (semi) pro soccer player and got enough gas money to get you 400 miles? You're in luck! The Lubbock Matadors of the fourth-division National Premier Soccer League are holding an open tryout on Saturday.

Read more Austin FC coverage at austinchronicle.com/austin-fc.

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