United Soccer Leagues (USL) added its second new franchise in as many days as professional soccer will return to Austin, Texas in 2019.
[ MORE: USL aims for more expansion ]
The second-tier league has continued its rapid growth in recent years with the Ottawa Fury, Tampa Bay Rowdies and Reno 1868 FC all joining at the start of the current 2017 season to take the league to 30 teams.
Austin Aztex’s were the last USL franchise in the Texas city but they were disbanded in 2015 after flooding issues at their former home and that team was in fact the second franchise to carry the Aztex name after the former was founded in 2008 but then relocated in 2010 to become Orlando City.
With a new soccer-specific stadium approved at the Circuit of the Americas track (it hosts the U.S. Formula 1 grand prix), Circuit of the Americas Chairman Bobby Epstein will take over majority ownership of the franchise.
Speaking about the new franchise USL CEO Alec Papadakis believes Austin is an incredibly strong market for soccer.
“The USL’s return to Austin is a major moment for the league as it continues to lead the growth of professional soccer across the country,” Papadakis said. “We could not be happier to be doing so with Bobby Epstein as the new leader of the organization’s ownership group. His work alongside the league’s leadership over the past two years to ensure professional soccer’s long-term stability in an outstanding city with a passionate fanbase has been exceptional, and we are delighted that this day has arrived.
“Bobby was named as one of the most influential people in Formula 1 racing in 2016 by Paddock Magazine, a sign of the high regard he is held by his peers in sport that encompasses the world. He is another outstanding addition to the strong ownership groups that have helped drive the USL toward its goal of being viewed in the same light as the English Championship, Liga Adalante and 2. Bundesliga.”
With San Antonio FC nearby, the rivalry has been renewed and Texas now has its fifth pro soccer team.
Birmingham, Alabama was also added to the USL ranks on Tuesday for the 2019 season and that now means USL will expand to 34 teams for the 2019 campaign as Fresno FC, Las Vegas and Nashville SC will all join for the 2018 season.
USL will launch a new division-three league in 2019, creating a third-tier in the North American soccer pyramid.
Lower level soccer in the U.S. is booming with many USL markets in the running for new Major League Soccer franchises, the North American Soccer League adding three new teams (California United FC and San Diego) for 2018 and clubs such as FC Cincinnati, Detroit City FC and Sacramento Republic all breaking attendance records.