The consolidation of select clubs in the Austin area has had both positive and negative effects. One of the oft mentioned negatives is the loss of old rivalries. The days of the Capitals/Flyers rivalry or Thunder/Eagles are long gone. In its place, intra-club match ups are often the most competitive matches of the season, and smaller clubs spend their time shooting at the “big kid” on the block. More than the loss of rivalries, though, is the loss of history. How many players and parents today know who the Capitals were, or that the ’70 Capitals boys team was the first Central Texas team to advance to the USYSA national championships? Who has played a match at Longhorn Soccer Park, or can tell us who Laszlo was and why he used to yell “Bluebonnet” as a match came to a close? Who remembers watching Milan Dovedan play with the Soccadillos and then coach for the Flyers? Who remembers hanging out at the Cantina at Retama while waiting to play against the Generals? Who would have thought that when the River City Rangers became the new kid on the block in 1991, that 20 years later they would be far and away the longest surviving club in Austin? In 1991, the betting money was much more on the “All Star Soccer Club” which also started that year in the same area outlasting the Rangers. Who remembers who the ASSC Director of Coaching was?
Stepping onto the county maintained grass fields each weekend, it is easy to take the facilities for granted. Looking at top teams that compete around the region and sometimes nationally, it is tempting to believe that this is Austin’s birthright. However, whether we are talking about facilities, clubs, or coaches, each stands on the shoulders of what has come before. The work and sacrifice of the pioneers who built Austin soccer in the 80s, laid the club foundations in the 90s and had the vision to work together in the 00s all led to where we are today. But there is merit in always asking if our structure is the best. There is a benefit to looking forward to new ways to change and evolve our youth soccer programs. At the same time, there is a wealth of history to learn from. For the vast majority of the kids out there, soccer is not about national championships. It is about fun and being the best you can be. It is about competition, friends and out of town tournaments. Here we can look at history. Can youth soccer serve two masters: the truly elite level youth who can and should compete at the regional and national levels and the vast majority of players who seek fun competitive and challenging soccer environments. Have we gone from too much talent dispersion to too much homogenization?
I can’t help but think that the kids below the top level teams are missing out on some of the things our players from the 90s and early 00s had. I can’t help but think that the energy the small clubs put into self preservation could be better directed towards serving players. I can’t help but think that the quest to be bigger, better or both has made it sacreligious to ask structural questions about how we do things. At the large club, you can’t question things because the overhead makes size and revenue the drivers of your organization. At the smaller club, you can’t ask questions because you appear weak or worse, make it appear that there is something appealing to being part of the larger group.
I’d humbly suggest that the answer is not between the two extremes, it overlays them both. The top teams must be drawn from a single large pool to be competitive regionally and nationally, and assure the best talent is paired with the best. Below the top levels, the players are likely better served in more personalized, perhaps localized clubs, with rivalries, local and state competitions, and most of all fun. Call is coordinated competition; call it an alliance system; call it a pipedream if you like. However, the changes that have taken place in Austin soccer in the last 30 years must continue, and they must continue to be driven by looking at structure and objectives.
When we ask, will Texans survive or will Force emerge as a second choice club to Lonestar, we are asking the wrong questions. We need to ask what soccer needs to look like in five or ten years, and then ask how we get there. If we don’t change, large club or small, we will move backwards. Our history is moving forward. This should also be our future.