Austin FC Announced as MLS 27th team in January 15 ceremony

For the last two years, TSJ has published a year-end wrap up of my favorite soccer events, stories and top players, clubs, coaches and media from throughout the state. Previously I have broken this list up into multiple articles, but I am combining them this year. As a result, the piece is fairly long and I appreciate your indulgence and consideration. There are no assertions that what is highlighted in this article are the “Best” of anything….because they are only opinions and reflect players, teams and sites I would like to recognize.

The last year has presented health challenges for me and I have not been able to devote the time to observe soccer in Texas that was planned at the beginning of 2019. I was unable to attend any live soccer matches from May until after the seasons had essentially ended, so I wrote far less this year and wasn’t able to pay close attention at many times. As a result, my favorites lists this year are not as comprehensive and are heavier on memories from games and other events I was able to attend earlier in the year.

Top 10 Stories and Memories

10-4 (alphabetical order)

Austin Bold-2019 Copa Tejas Winner

Austin Bold Inaugural Season and Stadium Opening

The Austin Bold returned professional soccer to the Capital City for the first time since the Austin Aztex moved operations to Orlando after the 2015 season. The club won the first Copa Tejas competition among Texas USL sides, made the playoffs, won an opening round playoff game and lost on penalties to league leaders Phoenix Rising in the second round. The Bold also opened a new stadium at Circuit of the Americas raceway south of the city that took less than six months to construct after a late 2018 groundbreaking. Unfortunately an otherwise successful first year was marred when forward Isaac Promise tragically passed away in October. In the article below are images taken at the Bold home opener against San Antonio FC (SAFC) on March 30. The atmosphere that night was great. The new stadium was sold out and a fair number of SAFC fans made their way north for the game, but my clearest memory was that it was one of the coldest nights I have ever spent at a soccer match in Texas.

Inocentes FC Advance to UPSL Fall Championship

Ft. Worth Inocentes FC played in the UPSL Fall National Championship in Los Angeles against Cal United FC on February 9th. Unfortunately the Texas side, after equalizing in the second half, lost in a penalty shootout (1-1, 4-2 penalties). Though new to the UPSL, Inocentes FC has been around since 1960, initially in Mexico and for almost 20 years now, in Ft. Worth. TSJ interviewed Head Coach Luis Alcala before the team travelled to California.

NTX Rayados Qualify for Ninth Consecutive U.S. Open Cup

The qualifying path for amateur clubs to play in the U.S. Open Cup is tortuous and expensive. None of the obstacles seem to trouble Dallas side NTX Rayados, who once again navigated three rounds of amateur qualifying to advance to the 2020 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup for the ninth consecutive year. The Rayados have been succesful competing with professional teams in the past and it will be fascinating to see if the success continues in the new year.

San Antonio FC Host Inaugural USL Academy Event

San Antonio FC hosted the first tournament involving the newly formed USL Academy initiative at S.T.A.R. Soccer Complex and Toyota Field. U-17’s from fourteen USL Western Conference clubs, at all three levels of the league, took part in the Western Conference Academy Cup Regional Event over 3 days in October. Watching the Academy teams play, my perspective was that the event was a clear success and match results will be used to seed the National event in Florida in 2020.

Texas Junior Colleges Win Three National Titles

Texas four-year Universities can count on one hand the number of national championships won since beginning play in the 1970’s. Unfortunately this year didn’t produce a winner, though the NCAA DI SMU Mustangs had a superb season, advancing to the quarterfinals where they lost in OT to Virginia. The Junior College situation is competely different. This year Tyler JC, which is a long-standing powerhouse on both the Men’s and Women’ side, won the NJCAA DI Women’s National Championship for the fourth time. Head coach Corey Rose was named the national Coach of the Year and numerous Apaches made All-American teams. Two Dallas JC’s, Richland and Brookhaven, also won the NJCAA DIII Men’s and Women’s Championships respectively.

USMNT Play Chile in Houston in March

The U.S. Men’s National Team returned to Houston in March for the seventh time since 1988 to play what turned out to be an entertaining match against Chile. In front of a decent turnout of 18,000+, a 4th minute goal from Christian Pulisic was countered by Chile five minutes later and that ended the scoring for the night. As usual when playing good South American opposition, there were a fair number of La Roja fans and the atmosphere was excellent. Since Gregg Berhalter was in town to promote the Chile match to local media the day after the Dynamo-Tigres CCL match, I stayed over and had a chance to participate in this press conference. TSJ published a piece on the history of the previous USMNT matches in Houston a few days before the game.

Number 3: Professional Soccer Returns to El Paso

El Paso has not had a professional soccer team to support, at least on the U.S. side of the border, since 2003. The El Paso Locomotive began USL play this season and it would be hard to call the inagural year anything but an unqualified success. Outstanding attendance, a vibrant supporters group, and an ownership group willing to invest in stadium modifications to create a soccer venue out of a baseball park, combined to create a fantastic environment for a quality soccer team. Performance on the field matched the off-field excellence. The Locomotive won two playoff games and advanced to the Western Conference Final where they suffered a tough loss to eventual USL Champions, Real Monarchs. Texas professional soccer culture is much richer with El Paso actively involved again.

Number 2: North Texas SC Wins USL League One Title

FC Dallas waited patiently for years until they felt the environment was right to launch its USL club. When U.S. Soccer Third Division USL League One was launched this year, North Texas Soccer Club was one of the inaugural season clubs established. An outstanding first place regular season finish was capped when they captured the first USL League One Championship on October 20. The honors didn’t end there. Forward Ronaldo Damus won the Golden Boot, Head Coach Eric Quill was named Coach of the Year and Arturo Rodriquez won both the Young Player of the Year and overall Most Valuable Player award. The club capped off the year with an announcement that they would be an anchor tenant in the newly converted and renovated Globe Life Park in Arlington in 2020. It is also worth noting that the parent club, which was expected to be rebuilding with young Homegrown players in 2019, made the playoffs and lost an exciting A.E.T match to eventual MLS Cup winners Seattle Sounders FC.

Number 1: Austin FC Announced as an MLS Expansion Team

Austin FC was announced as the 27th MLS expansion team at a ceremony in downtown Austin on January 15th. The club, which will begin play in 2021, has made steady progress as the year progressed. A new 21,000 seat soccer specific stadium at McKalla Place is now under construction, a $45 million practice facility complex was announced, the first General Manager (Claudio Reyna) and Head Coach (Josh Wolff) were named, their initial Development Academy team began play and 30,000 seat deposits were placed when tickets went on sale in the summer. Austin will finally have its first major professional sports team and it looks to be an instant success.

Goal and Save of the Year

Goal:

Houston Dynamo forward Mauro Manotas scored this amazing goal against Toronto FC in July. There were other excellent goals this year. Goals from three Texas USL players, Edson Partida (El Paso), Cristian Parano (SAFC) and Faris Abdi (Bold), also stand out. I chose this one though, if for no other reasons than I couldn’t believe it when I saw it and Toronto FC fans have a conniption every time they see it.

Save:

The series of saves made by FC Dallas goalkeeper Jesse Gonzalez against Colorado in September. Nominated for MLS Save of the Year.

https://www.mlssoccer.com/post/2019/09/29/save-jesse-gonzalez-makes-series-save-dallas

Lowlight of the Year:

The helpless feeling watching Tigres fans take over BBVA Stadium during their 2-0 win over the Houston Dynamo in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals in March.

Before the match I wrote about more positive memories from prior Dynamo participation in CONCACAF competition

Top Players, Clubs, Coaches

Professional Team: North Texas Soccer Club Won the USL League One Championship

High Level Amateur Team: Brazos Valley Cavalry (USL League Two) Won Mid South Conference with an undefeated record (10-0-4). Advanced to Southern Region Finals.

Player: Ryan Hollingshead-FC Dallas Versatile left back who played multiple positions during the season was cited as one of the best defenders in MLS. Scored 6 goals and 3 assists and was named to the MLS OPTA Best XI. Played in all 34 games and was near the top of multiple MLS defender categories.

Coach: Mark Lowry-El Paso Locomotive Built a club from scratch and led them to the USL Western Conference Final. Superb midseason signings including former USMNT forward Jerome Kiesewetter. Lowry is a fan favorite and TSJ was able to interview him twice this year and came away believing that he is a young coach with a bright future.

College: Southern Methodist University (SMU) Men Advanced to NCAA DI Elite 8. Finished 18-2-1 overall.

High School: San Elizario Boys UIL Division 4A The Boys soccer team from a small border town thirty minutes from El Paso won their second consecutive State Championship.

Youth Program: Solar SC (Dallas) To be fair this recognition could go to the FC Dallas Academy every year. This year was no different, the FCD Youth were named the 2019 MLS Academy of the Year. Instead I will highlight another North Texas program that routinely sends players to U.S. Youth National Team’s, especially on the Girls side. This year Solar SC won both the Girls and Boys U-16/17 U.S. Soccer Development Academy Championships in July.

Media Recognition

Image/video: This video from Argentina has nothing to do with Texas, but I hope that Austin FC does this when they open their new stadium…except using a fierce grackle.

Website: 3rd Degree Since 1997 Buzz Carrick and his team have produced some of the best work done by any MLS focused site in the country. 3rd Degree ended their relationship with the Dallas Morning-News this year and has gone independent. 3rd Degree also has an excellent podcast started in late 2018. A Patreon page has been set up to help support their operations: https://www.patreon.com/3rdDegree

Radio Show: Soccer Matters With Glenn Davis Another long time favorite on ESPN-Houston and podcast. Glenn launched a second edition of Soccer Matters, with unique market focused content, in Austin earlier this year on The Horn AM and FM.

Pod/Videocasts: Multiple top podcasts over Texas It is impossible to pick one podcast to spotlight. Much excellent work is being done by soccer fans/journalists in all major cities in the state. Significant time and expense is devoted to these shows for the love of the game and the teams they support. I learned a lot and enjoyed listening to them throughout the year. Four excellent podcasts/radio shows were 2019 additions to this list. Austin’s Soccer Pod, Austin Soccer Show (also on The Horn), Three Bird BoldCast and El Paso’s Seriously Loco Soccer Pod. I would also like to recognize the excellent interview podcast series started by the Houston Dynamo and San Antonio FC in 2019 and hope they continue next year.

Soccer Article: As The Border Bled, Juarez Watched The Game It Waited Nine Years ForRoberto Jose Andrade Franco on Deadspin A long read, but worth it. https://deadspin.com/as-the-border-bled-juarez-watched-the-game-it-waited-n-1836981022

Journalist: Jon Arnold-Goal, The Dallas Morning News and others He is a leading English language authority on Mexican soccer and also smaller CONCACAF countries that do not receive much coverage. Jon also writes about FC Dallas regularly in the Morning News. All of his work is superb, but here is a sample of an article from the recent CONCACAF Gold cup for an English publication The Blizzard. Also worth the read. https://www.theblizzard.co.uk/article/below-surface

If you made it to the end of the article…..thank you. I am truly appreciative of all my readers. I look forward to a great 2020 in Texas Soccer and will do my best to share work that is worth your time. Thank you again and Happy New Year.