Columbus Crew SC will have to come up with another plan for its USL youth development next season.
It's the kind of news that PR people try to bury, and so the news came across Friday afternoon that Columbus USL affiliate Austin Aztex will not play in 2016.
According to the league and club, the Aztex could not secure a stadium situation it felt was in its best interest, and therefore decided not to play in 2016 while focusing full attention on resolving the playing site issue before resuming play in 2017. At the moment, it is not intended to be the death of the club, but rather a hitting of the pause button to refocus efforts.
"There's a lot that needs to be done," Aztex owner Rene van de Zande told the Austin American-Statesman. "We've been looking at various options, and it became clear it was better to put full efforts in 2016 into finding a stadium for 2017, and the league agreed with us."
The team had been playing at the Austin Independent School District's House Park high school facility, but a flood during the season damaged the stadium and forced the club to another high school stadium. Neither situation was ideal for the Aztex because alcohol sales are not allowed at a high school facility, leaving the club without valuable income (and a valuable selling point for fans).
The American-Statesman story outlines possible options for the club, the top one being building its own stadium. Stadiumforaustin.com has taken up the cause online.
What does that mean for the Black & Gold? The two options are for Crew SC to begin its own Crew II (or other monikered) USL club, a growing trend among MLS teams wanting to get the most out of youth development. This, of course, costs money, and, unless the wheels were already in motion, seems unlikely to be ready to go by the start of the 2016 season.
The other option is to simply set up an affiliation with another club. FC Cincinnati is set to begin USL play in 2016 and seems like a natural partner for Columbus, with the geographic proximity between the two cities.
This announcement will certainly add fuel to the FC Cincinnati affiliation rumors, though neither club has said anything official about attempting to work together. In fact, FCC has seemed to indicate they do not want to partner with a current MLS club, as it has its own MLS aspirations for the future.
Crew SC has also been mum about the possibility of starting its own USL team, generally deflecting questions about it with cliched responses about the benefits of the current affiliate program.
Regardless, one thing is known — Columbus youngsters will be heading somewhere other than Austin to get in work in 2016.
Players like Sergio Campbell and Romain Gall spent time with the Aztex this season. The affiliate program allows players who are not yet ready to ply their trade in MLS an opportunity to still get minutes in meaningful matches against fellow professionals.
The Aztex were coached by Paul Dalglish, son of Scottish legend Kenny Dalglish.
The announcement adds to a rocky off-field history for soccer in Austin. The Aztex were originally founded in 2008, but in 2010 were moved to Orlando, where they operated as Orlando City in the USL until making the jump to MLS in 2015. The current iteration of the Austin Aztex were re-founded in 2011 and began playing in the Premier Devlopment League in 2012, before the club made its USL debut this season. It won the PDL championship in 2013.
Not only did the stadium issue follow the club around this season, but it was also unable to secure a team sponsor.