In recent remarks, MLS commissioner Don Garber weighed in on Austin, a major market that is not in the current league expansion mix.
With a sizable and diverse population, Austin would fit in among MLS expansion candidates and, as a market, could have more to offer than some of its competitors. However, one of the reasons it is not among the 12 cities currently being considered for an expansion franchise is its stadium situation, which has affected professional soccer.
Since 2015, the USL’s Austin Aztex have been inactive, with one of the team’s most pressing issues being its facility. The team lasted played at Kelly Reeves Athletic Complex, an 11,000-seat facility that came with some financial limitations, including the inability for the Aztex to sell alcohol. The Aztex relocated to the stadium after their previous stadium, House Park, was damaged in a flood.
When attending South by Southwest, Garber commented on Austin, acknowledging its strengths and saying it “should be a good MLS market.” More from the Austin American-Statesman:
Yet, Austin has failed to support a minor-league soccer team, and it will remain the largest city in the U.S. without a professional sports franchise after MLS announces its four-team expansion in the near future, including two by the fall. The continued growth of soccer in the U.S., which includes the quixotic attempt by several local groups to bring professional soccer to Austin, served as a backdrop to Saturday’s trio of panels.
“It (Austin) is a special place, and in many ways, it mirrors the dynamic of MLS,” Garber said following a discussion moderated by Sports Illustrated soccer reporter Grant Wahl. “There’s a young, innovative, diverse population living in a city. Austin should be a good MLS market.”
But the lack of public and private support for a professional soccer franchise says otherwise. The Austin Aztex had its activities suspended by the United Soccer League in October 2015 after, among other reasons, failing to find suitable facilities, and the club’s identity remains in limbo.
Austin’s struggles contrast with the growth of the sport, which Garber touted during a wide-ranging conversation with Wahl that included questions from the audience.
Leading up the announcement of the 12 cities that will be considered in this round of MLS expansion, Austin was usually ranked within our monthly look at MLS expansion candidates. However, the city was usually at or near the bottom of the rankings because of its uncertain stadium situation.
If that does change over the long run, and a willing ownership group emerges, perhaps Austin will eventually have just enough in place to pique the league’s interest.
Photo of 2013 MLS All-Star Game by Brett Flanders via flickr.com.