This past weekend wasn’t about love–it was about soccer.
For the first time ever, Austin got to see Major League Soccer action firsthand. D.C United, FC Dallas, Columbus Crew SC and the hometown favorite Austin Aztex converged on the capitol city for ATX Pro Challenge that, in addition to providing the teams with another chance to gear up for the upcoming season, was a chance to show that there’s support for soccer and MLS in Austin.
And it succeeded.
Roughly 12,000 people showed up over the course of the two-days to see the preseason matches, just about filling up the east stands at Mike A. Meyers Stadium at the University of Texas. There were supporter groups from most of the teams (step it up Columbus) were there, making it an entertaining atmosphere.
And even though FC Dallas couldn’t quite take home the armadillo trophy, it was a success for everyone.
As I wrote for today’s The Daily Texan, the tournament accomplished its main objective to show that the city supports soccer and is can be a good home for an MLS team if it is given one. I was quite surprised by the number of people who came out to see the tournament, especially after hearing the relatively early ticket sales numbers.
But both days saw a strong turnout of supporters and neutrals alike, with the neutrals cheering on any goal no matter who it was. That, coupled with the chants sung by the supporter groups gave it quite the fun feel even if they were exhibition matches.
And the tournament got rave reviews from the players as well. The Statesman reported that many players approved of the pitch at the stadium and the Crews’ Chad Barson told the paper that he thought the city could support an MLS team if it’s given a chance.
The setup at the stadium was well thought out as well. Keeping with the live music vibe of Austin, the tournament had a live band perform between the two matches each day. A number of fans go to sit right next to the field and the bench, though I don’t think that price was worth it. And everything seemed to go smoothly, which rarely happens at last-minute events.
Unfortunately, as I noted in my Texan column, the chance of Austin getting an MLS team is still very slim. There are a number of factors outside of the city’s control that will determine that. The biggest is the limit of 24 teams that commissioner Don Garber has set for expansion for the near future. The league currently has 20 teams with two more teams confirmed to be coming in 2017 and a Miami team that’s been on again, off again. That leaves two spots at most for expansion teams and there are a number of cities ahead of Austin to get a team.
And then there’s the issue of having a downtown stadium that will be next impossible for Austin to pull off without controversy.
But that doesn’t take away from this weekend and this tournament. On its own, it was an incredibly strong preseason tournament that highlighted the Austin soccer community. And maybe one day it will lead to an MLS team in Austin.