Columbus Crew owner might move his team to Austin

Steven Tibbetts, staff reporter

Major League Soccer, or MLS, could finally be coming to Austin.

This fall, MLS owner Anthony Precourt named Austin as a possible relocation city for his team, the Columbus Crew.

“This club has ambition to be a standard bearer in MLS,” Precourt said in a news release. “Therefore, we have no choice but to expand and explore all of our options. This includes a possible move to Austin, which is the largest metropolitan area in North America without a major league sports franchise. Soccer is the world’s game, and with Austin’s growing presence as an international city, combined with its strong multicultural foundation, MLS in Austin could be an ideal fit.”

The news both shocked and excited many soccer fans in Austin.

“I was surprised because [people] had been talking about [getting a MLS team] for a long time, [but Austin] hadn’t come through with it,” freshman soccer player Daniel Brice said.

The future of soccer in Austin took a big step forward with Precourt’s announcement.

“I was really happy and surprised,” freshman Blake Steckel said, “because Austin isn’t really a soccer city. It’s more about football.”

An incoming MLS team wouldn’t have to worry about competition from other professional sports in Austin. Austin is the largest city in the United States that doesn’t have any of the four major professional sports leagues: the NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL.

The Crew, who could be coming to Austin as soon as 2019, would help fill the void of professional soccer in Austin left behind by the departure of the United Soccer League’s Austin Aztex. The Aztex disbanded after their home stadium, House Park, was damaged by the Memorial Day floods in 2015. The Aztex’s MLS affiliation was with the Crew. Austin has not been home to another professional soccer team since.

“I was excited [about the possibility of a MLS team moving to Austin] because I was sad that the Aztex went away, and I was hoping there was going to be a MLS team coming,” freshman Jake Anderson said.

If the Crew came to Austin, they wouldn’t be the only new soccer team in town. A new United Soccer League, or USL, team is expected to come to Austin in 2019. Although this new team does not have a name yet, they do have something the Crew has yet to find in Austin: a home stadium. The USL team is going to play their home games at Circuit of the Americas.

Options for where the Crew would play their home games, meanwhile, are still being discussed. Precourt, the Crew’s owner, has mentioned Mike A. Myers Stadium, the University of Texas’ track-and-field and soccer stadium, as a potential home stadium for his team. Building a new stadium in Butler Shores Metropolitan Park is another viable option for Precourt and the Crew.

Securing a stadium for the Crew is a vital step toward bringing the team to Austin. In fact, the main reason Precourt is debating a move is because the Crew’s request for help from Columbus in building a new stadium was denied.

Precourt believes that playing in a better stadium than MAPFRE Stadium, the Crew’s current stadium, is key in bringing the Crew’s declining attendance levels up.

If the Crew does move to Austin, the team would likely be more popular than the USL team because of the high popularity of the MLS among soccer fans.

“The MLS is a big deal, and it would be cool to have a home team that you could support,” said sophomore Josh Betton, who also said he would go watch some of the Crew’s games.
Steckel agreed that watching MLS games in Austin would be fun: “[Having a MLS team] would be really cool, and I would watch every game,” he said.

Sophomore Isabella Wilson says that her enthusiasm for the MLS would hinge on the success of the potential new team in Austin.

“[My interest would] depend on how good [the new team was], and if they were really good, I would definitely get into it,” Wilson said.

Luckily for Wilson and soccer fans around Austin, the Crew is currently one of the more successful teams in the MLS. The Crew qualified for the MLS Cup playoffs and went on to beat Atlanta United FC and New York City FC before losing to Toronto FC in the semifinals this November. The Crew’s recent success is even more reason for Austin soccer fans to be excited about the future.

It is possible that the Crew and the city of Columbus will decide to work together to keep the team in Columbus, but for now, soccer fans in Austin are holding on to hope.

“I think it’s a good possibility [that Austin gets a MLS team], and I think it would be awesome if we had a MLS team,” Anderson said. “It would [mean] a lot more [fans] in Austin, a lot more fans and a lot of people who love soccer and enjoy it.”