It’s easy to become a spoiled soccer fan as the UEFA European Championships are ubiquitously broadcast on the ESPN family of networks and we’re all treated to exciting matches between Europe’s top teams. Some of the best players in the world are on display, and we’re all reminded just how good Spain’s midfield is. But it’s also easy to overlook the fact that there is another exciting team to watch right in our backyard.
The Austin Aztex aren’t going to feature any of the world’s best footballers, or draw crowds bigger than a few thousand people, but what they do bring is an intensity and energy level that is lost in some levels of the sport. Europe may be home to some of the highest skilled players to ever dribble a ball, but domestically, the Aztex are nothing to scoff at. A member of the Mid-South division within the United Soccer League’s Premier Development League, the Aztex are in the middle of their inaugural season and own a record of 4-3-2. The team plays all of its 16 games between May and July, and is comprised of unpaid amateurs hoping to make a professional roster.
The Aztex called Austin home once before back in 2008, but were relocated when former owner Phil Rawlins moved the franchise to Orlando, Fla. to become Orlando City Soccer Club before the move in 2010, the Aztex provided Austinites with a legitimate soccer team that looked as if it was poised to grow in coming years and possibly earn promotion into the top league in the U.S. soccer pyramid, the MLS.
Currently playing in the fourth division of U.S. soccer, the Aztex have once again positioned themselves for promotion. It hasn’t taken long for fans of the Aztex, new and old, to rehash their support for the team after a short hiatus. Led by coach Paul Dalglish, a former player for England’s Newcastle United and Blackpool F.C., the Aztex employ a style of play very reminiscent to European teams. Dalglish is no stranger to winning either, having captured two MLS titles in 2006 and 2007 as a member of the Houston Dynamo. He took over as head coach at the beginning of this season and has turned the team into a contender in just his first year.
The Aztex play their home games in cozy House Park, a 6,500 seat stadium situated in the historic Judges’ Hill neighborhood. Originally erected in 1939 and still home to the Austin High football and soccer teams, House Park provides the Aztex with an intimate gameday atmosphere that doesn’t exist in the PDL. The 6,500 seats are rarely filled, but it doesn’t take much for House Park to turn into a hostile environment for opposing teams. The distance between the field and the fans is no more than 10 feet, and coincidentally, it is those fans who sit closest to the action that are the most vocal during games. There does exist a small contingent of “rowdies” that do their best to distract the opposition, and of course give the officials a piece of their collective mind on occasion. This interaction between the fans and what is happening on the pitch has always been an experience unique to soccer and it gives House Park a genuine feel, not to mention the gorgeous downtown backdrop and uncanny summer breeze that makes it a near perfect venue for the Aztex.
If the Aztex continue to grow as a franchise, they can one day dream of becoming a part of MLS. But in order to reach the pinnacle of U.S. soccer, the team would likely have to part ways with its current home field to accommodate more fans and vendors. But for now, House Park remains home for the Aztex and will continue to provide fans with a fun and welcoming experience that can’t be duplicated.