Austin Bold FC will make a big splash Saturday night when they play their inaugural home soccer match against I-35 rivals San Antonio FC (SAFC). The evening will also mark the opening of the Bold’s new 5,000 seat stadium at the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) raceway and entertainment venue south of Austin.
The new $5 million stadium, which includes a covered grandstand and individual chair back seating, took only five months to construct from groundbreaking to completion. Built next to COTA’s racetrack, the new stadium includes locker rooms and is designed to share infrastructure with current facilities at the sprawling complex. The club has paid special attention to installation of a high-quality natural grass soccer field, capable of standing up to Texas summer heat, that will help attract a variety of potential high-profile future international soccer and rugby events to the stadium.
San Antonio FC Head Coach Darren Powell is excited about the opportunity to be the first USL club to face Austin Bold in their new stadium, calling Saturday night’s match location, atmosphere and the start of a rivalry “a unique experience.” He also commented on the distinctiveness of the proximity of the two clubs, a rare occurrence given the typically long distances between USL Western Conference cities. “It is a great opportunity for our fans to see us on the road and for us to take a bus trip to an away game as opposed to a flight to Denver.”
Austin Bold began play this season as an expansion franchise and SAFC is now entering its fourth season in the United Soccer League (USL). This second division soccer league has been sanctioned by U.S. Soccer to be the domestic professional soccer league immediately below first division Major League Soccer (MLS). The 36-team league is divided equally into two conferences, with SAFC and Austin playing in the West. Both clubs will play a 34-game regular season schedule, home and away against the other 17 teams in the conference, stretching from March to October. Playoffs follow for the 10 teams from each conference that qualify, with the USL Championship game taking place sometime between November 10-14. All USL Soccer matches are live streamed on the ESPN+ platform.
Both San Antonio (0-2-1) and Austin (0-1-1) are off to slow starts, together earning only 2 out of a possible 15 points in the first three weeks of the season, adding further urgency to Saturday night’s contest.
SAFC’s Powell returns for his fourth season as head coach and has rebuilt his roster after missing the playoffs in 2018. Several former MLS players and USL veterans have joined, including fan favorite midfielder Billy Forbes, who returns after playing the 2018 season in Phoenix. Powell said the club is focused on its own preparation for Saturday night, but talked about his respect for the Bold roster after practice on Tuesday. He also recognizes that after only two games, the Bold are a work in progress and that SAFC faces the challenge of being the first USL team to see them at home. “They have an extremely talented group of players. Several have played at a very high level. This is their first home game and we know they have lots of experienced players on the field. We need to take advantage of some of the areas we can excel in.”
Austin Bold FC’s Head Coach Marcelo Serrano has assembled an internationally diverse roster of players representing 14 nationalities, many as Powell pointed out, with world-wide pedigrees. Team Captain and midfielder Dario Conca is an Argentinian who was named Footballer of the Year in the Brazilian first division in 2010 and Chinese Super League in 2013. Brazilian forward Kleber, who scored the first goal in Bold history two weeks ago, has starred in a long career in both Brazil and Ukraine. To add spice to the emerging I-35 rivalry, Austin has added three players who recently were part of San Antonio FC.
At Bold Media Day, Serrano expressed his excitement for the start of the rivalry with San Antonio, citing rivalries in the Brazilian city where he was born as an example of the potential in the ongoing relationship with SAFC. “When you have a Derby [rivalry] situation, one team doesn’t live without the other. It’s like a brotherhood because one team pushes the other to become the best.”
The rivalry between the two teams has the potential to expand state-wide thanks to a new competition formed by supporters of the four USL Texas teams. The newly crowned “Copa Tejas” Cup will be awarded at the end of the season to the Texas USL club with the best 2019 regular season record in intra-state matches. Saturday’s Bold-SAFC match will be the second of twelve Copa Tejas games on the schedule for this year. The first, played last Saturday night by the other Texas USL teams El Paso Locomotive and Rio Grande Valley FC, ended in a 2-2 draw.
Because of the short distance between the two cities, a substantial number of SAFC supporters are planning to travel to Austin, providing an even more electric atmosphere for this inaugural match. The return fixture will take place when the Bold travel to San Antonio on July 3rd. Kick-off for the match will be at 7:30 p.m. Saturday night at Circuit of the Americas.