By Anthony Mannino
With the Austin Aztex’s inaugural season over, the club enters the offseason with many speculating whether or not the Aztex will move into the professional ranks next season.
Austin has yet to make an official decision on the matter, but owner David Markley has repeatedly expressed his intentions on bringing pro soccer to the city in the near future.
However, it remains to be seen if the near future is in five years or within the next two years.
If the Aztex do play in the NASL or USL, there are major steps the club must take to prepare for professional soccer. It starts with attracting a talented team, which shouldn’t be too hard for the Aztex. The combination of playing in the city of Austin and Paul Dalglish coaching should be enticing enough for talented players. If the team does go pro, expect a few Aztex PDL players like Ross Kelly and Leone Cruz to be a part of the squad.
The most intriguing pro player the Aztex could add is Kekuta Manneh, who is currently trialing in Europe. If he doesn’t sign with a European club, Manneh would be eligible, unlike Aztex players who go to college, to join the Aztex professional team while he attends Lake Travis High School.
Along with building a professional squad, the Aztex should also begin developing facilities for the club. The Aztex would require a training facility, offices for the organization and possibly their own stadium.
However, the Aztex are not a professional team yet, so all the scenarios above are a big “what if” at the moment. Even if the team doesn’t turn professional, there are a few areas the club could improve upon before next season.
The Aztex should extend some of its marketing focus to high school and middle school crowd during the next school year. I covered the Westlake boys’ soccer beat during the spring of 2012 for a local paper, and numerous parents didn’t know that the Aztex were returning in the summer. This is significant because Westlake is a soccer-loving school with the boys’ team making it to the final four of the 5A state playoffs last year.
If members of the Aztex staff or players still living in Austin, they could attend high school practices and games. It would go a long way to attract more people to games. With high school soccer in the winter and spring, the Austin club could market their games to the kids by volunteering at games or practices. Hopefully for the Aztex, the high or middle school player would tell their parents about the Aztex after receiving help during a practice, and later, the family would go to a game in the summer. In the end, it’s a win-win for the kids and the club.
Another step in improving the Aztex brand would be marketing the Super-20 club. The PDL club (or in the future the pro club) is always going to be the main attraction, but the feeder team is important for the club. In the future, it would help to have both teams play in the same stadium, so that more potential Aztex PDL fans could see the up-and-coming players.
Half of the Super-20 games were 40 minutes away in Georgetown, which is a trek for even the hardcore fans. Maybe, the Aztex could have a doubleheader match on a Saturday at House Park; the Super-20 team could play their match at 5 p.m. and the PDL team at 8 p.m.
The games would be marketed together, and the fans wouldn’t have to travel to two different stadiums to see the two Aztex teams play.
With the rebirth of the Aztex just last year, many of these steps were impossible to accomplish during the club’s inaugural season. One area that was a success was the game-day atmosphere, which improved throughout the season.
Regardless of whether the Aztex are a pro team or a PDL team, expect attendances, the game-day atmosphere and the organization to improve after a stellar first season.