Central Texas Lobos are certainly open to new ideas and do things differently than most other amateur soccer teams in Texas.
One of the unique ways the Lobos differ will be demonstrated Saturday night when the Austin-suburban team plays its first home match against Motagua New Orleans, as the first Texas team in their new league…the Gulf Coast Premier League (GCPL).
The Gulf Coast Premier League
The GCPL, founded in 2014 out of Louisiana, is a high-level regional men’s amateur soccer league with 15 teams spread throughout the five Gulf Coast states. The Lobos, the first club in a planned larger GCPL expansion into Texas, will play in the five team Western Division of the league in 2018. Like other high-level amateur national leagues, the regular season schedule will run from May to July. The Championship Final will take place in Mobile, AL on July 28th.
In a phone interview on Monday, Jonathan Rednour, GCPL Vice President, talked about the GCPL decision process to move into Texas after successful expansion into Mississippi, Alabama and the Florida Panhandle. In 2017 the Lobos began discussions with the GCPL and Rednour talked about the thought and rationale that went into the ultimate decision to expand the GCPL into Texas.
“Once the Lobos reached out to us, we pondered whether we wanted to step into Texas because of the big PDL, NPSL, TPSL presence and [also] the city leagues are quite competitive. After speaking with David we wanted to give it a shot and we felt that the Lobos were a great team to include [in the league].”
Rednour then talked about how the league plans to bring more clubs to Texas in support of the Lobos, because the league knows that the travel distances between the Austin area and the other Louisiana-based clubs is not sustainable in the long term. “Both the league and David understand that [the Lobos] are not going to be able to travel the schedule he has this year [long-term]. I have spoken with a couple of clubs out in Texas, and my goal is to create a Texas Division. I would love to [eventually] see six to eight teams out of Texas.”
He then went on to point out that Texas is basically the same size as the other geographical areas in the league and very attractive to the league in the future. “I think Texas is very rich in soccer and I feel as though that if we can find the formula, it can be very beneficial to both us and the state of Texas.”
Central Texas Lobos
The Central Texas Lobos have had an intermittent presence in the Austin area since 1996. Club President Dave Walding restarted the club a few years ago after moving back to the area from non-profit work in Seattle and Mexico. After progressing up the Adult Amateur Soccer ladder, the Lobos reached the top rung and elected to join the Texas Premier Soccer League (TPSL), where they won the league’s Texas Cup in their first and only season. After that season the club began discussions and ultimately decided to join up with the GCPL to become the first league expansion team in Texas.
Walding is bullish about the Lobos future with the GCPL and, after considering a variety of potential landing sites, is pleased with the decision to join the league so far. “We like the structure of the league, the scheduling [spring/summer] and the minimum facility requirements. We were adamant about having all of the clubs meet a certain minimum requirement.” Walding then talked about the collective structure of the league as a benefit too. “There is a Board of Directors and all of the clubs have input into [decision making] so it is a communal feel with all of the entities involved rather than a top-down structure.”
Central Texas Lobos will play a 10-match regular season with five home games at Bob Shelton Stadium in Buda (roughly 20 miles south of Austin). The multi-purpose stadium, owned by the Hays CISD, has a capacity of 9,000 and uses an artificial surface field. The other teams in the West are all in Louisiana: Alexandria Pool Boys FC from Alexandria, Boca Knights FC and Shreveport United from Shreveport and Cajun Soccer Club from Lafayette. The Lobos schedule will include home and away matches against Western Division opponents and two against Central Division teams. The home opener against Motagua will be one of these cross-division matches. This will be the second match of the 2018 regular season. The Lobos traveled to Alexandria two weeks ago and defeated Pool Boys FC 2-1 in the opener.
The Lobos are focused on building a strong and sustainable presence in the community in the first season. “We want to be fan driven-build a fan base this season and try to drive our club through sponsorship and attendance. We want to have the infrastructure to show our fans that this is going to be a high level of attractive soccer.” said David Walding, pointing to Motagua New Orleans and AFC Mobile as franchises to emulate in this regard. Walding then discussed on-the-field goals, pointing to the challenging travel demands as an obstacle to confront. “This season we want to compete, and I think we have a team that can be competitive and try to qualify for the playoffs and just take it from there. The travel will be one of our biggest hurdles to overcome.”
Lobos Head Coach Felipe Arcos will lead a young and mostly local roster, with only a handful of college players in place for the Lobos inaugural season, unlike many of the teams they will face this year. “[The Lobos] roster is very local. We have a young team and they mostly come from the local club system and local [South Austin area] high schools. We do have players, though, from as far south as San Antonio right now and as far north as Taylor [north Austin area].“ said Walding. He commented that this strategy will evolve in the future. “We felt like it was right for us this year to focus on our own homegrown players and not on university players. I think down the road we will look more at fitting in university players.”
Central Texas Lobos are much more than just the GCPL side. The team fielded an indoor team in the Premier Arena Soccer League this past season and is focused on expanding its Youth Academy program. Currently the youth program is focused on high school players-several players on the current roster come from this Academy program. The club plans to expand the youth program to be an all-ages Academy for both boys and girls-using a non-profit model to build the Academy and reduce costs to participants. What most demonstrates the unique nature of the club, however, is the fact that the Lobos own a Third-Division soccer club in El Paraiso, Honduras. This is a topic for a completely different article and we will come back to this subject later this year.
The Future for the GCPL in Texas
The Lobos will be an interesting experiment for the GCPL in Texas. Ultimately the GCPL is focusing on building a solid and sustainable southern regional league, using the regional system in Germany as a model. The GCPL has been approached to be part of a larger national league but doesn’t believe that is the best path forward. GCPL’s Jonathan Rednour is banking on this regional formula to find like-minded adult amateur teams in Texas that don’t see a national league model as the best approach for their club. “We are going to try and find the teams that want to be part of us and share the same vision as us and grow from there.”
Texas is certainly big enough to sustain dozens of high-amateur soccer teams. There is no reason that the GCPL can’t be one of the leagues growing the sport in the state and for the Central Texas Lobos to be a thriving part of this environment in the future.
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