The Austin Aztex returned to the professional ranks on Tuesday, as the USL PDL club announced its entry into USL PRO for the 2015 season, growing the third-tier pro league to 18 members.
The Aztex are the fifth USL PRO expansion team for next year, joining Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC, Louisville City FC, Saint Louis FC and Tulsa Roughnecks FC in “a blueprint for steady, regionalized growth,” according to USL executives.
“After two very successful seasons on the field in the PDL – which included a 2013 [PDL] national championship and a steadily growing fan base – we are ready to move to the USL PRO level,” said Rene van de Zande, chairman of Austin's ownership group. “We have a clear vision for what we want to achieve with our club in Austin and joining USL PRO is part of this. We commend USL PRO for developing a strong and high quality league as well as for the relationship it has established with Major League Soccer.
“Our ambition is to turn the Austin Aztex into a 'house of excellence' geared towards nurturing and developing the best professional players on and off the field.”
Austin, the former home of 2015 MLS expansion club Orlando City SC before their relocation to central Florida, is one of several markets around the country which have made clear their desire for MLS membership in the future. And the Aztex ownership group made no secret of those hopes this week.
“This is a proven path to the MLS,” Aztez CEO David Markley told those present at Tuesday's announcement. Aztex officials also said they plan to craft an affiliate partnership with an MLS club in time for their USL PRO debut campaign.
The Aztex won last year's PDL championship and have established a reputation for developing young talent, with the likes of Kekuta Manneh and 2013 MLS Rookie of the Year Dillon Powers having starred for the club.