Austin is moving closer and closer to fielding a professional soccer team next year.
The United Soccer League, in consultation with USL Austin ownership, decided Monday the franchise should make every effort to take the pitch in 2019.
The USL granted Austin an expansion franchise last summer, but owner Bobby Epstein put everything on hold in October when Precourt Sports Ventures announced Major League Soccer’s Columbus Crew SC were exploring a move to Austin.
USL Austin sat on idle for 4½ months, giving Anthony Precourt time to come up with a stadium solution. If the Crew were to relocate here, the division two franchise would request a move to another market.
“The league has told us we’ve got to get our franchise started or we risk losing it,” Epstein said Monday.
PSV has crawled along, suffering setbacks in its pursuit and not releasing a plan of attack after losing its desired destination, Butler Shores Metropolitan Park, to neighborhood pressure. The franchise is still pursuing a move here for 2019. The team would play in an undetermined temporary home.
The USL decided its new Austin team cannot wait any longer to start from scratch in building a franchise that would be ready to roll one year from now.
“I’ve been fully rooting for the Crew to come here,” said USL Austin general manager Roberto Pinto da Silva Jr. “We were getting late for 2019. Now we’re in awkward spot.
“When this came about, we told (the) USL we thought it would be resolved by January, and then we would request a move to another market. It just doesn’t seem like the Crew are making any movement, so our focus should be on putting a team on the field.”
The USL issued a statement to the Statesman:
“We look forward to the return of Austin to the league in the 2019 season. Austin joins several exciting new cities that will debut in the USL over the next several years including Las Vegas, Memphis, Birmingham, Chicago, Oakland East Bay and more.
“USL Austin has a well-established local ownership group who has shown a long-term commitment to the community and its strong identity. With a soccer-oriented venue located in the heart of COTA and the necessary infrastructure already in place, USL Austin will be ready to deliver the thrill of professional soccer to the region’s ardent fans.”
Epstein announced Aug. 9 he would build a 5,000-seat stadium at his motorsports and entertainment complex and locate it in between the Austin 360 Amphitheater and the grand plaza. The FCB Escola training academy, an arm of FC Barcelona, has been using the facility since late last summer.
Late next month, the Spring League, a developmental pro football camp and scouting event, will arrive at COTA and play games in the stadium the first two weekends in April. Former Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M is the star attraction.
Epstein said capacity for the Spring League games will be 4,000, with further expansion on the horizon for USL Austin and football in 2019. He said, however, that time is running short to put a high-end facility together.
“We’re in a tough spot,” he said. “It’s a narrow window for construction because we can’t start until the amphitheater season ends in November. Giving the permitting process, it could be difficult to get the stadium we want for year one.”