Over the last half-year, Austin FC have meticulously scouted and recruited the players who will first represent the expansion club. It's just another big decision amid a series of major ones as the expansion side prepares to enter the league in 2021.
After identification camps, receiving recommendations and further scouting, Austin FC have their first roster set: a U-14 academy team, which will start play in the fall of 2019, making it the first official Austin FC team.
“We’re going to be innovative and creative to make sure we reflect the interests of the city," academy general manager Tyson Wahl told MLSsoccer.com. "It’s a very innovative and creative city. Through our playstyle and coaching, we’re going to appeal to those interests. We’re going to establish a playing style that’s consistent throughout our entire club.”
The decision to start with the U-14s is not one that the club took lightly, weighing the pros and cons of selecting middle-schoolers as opposed to those set to soon graduate high school and, theoretically, push for a first-team deal.
“What we decided would be the best was to start with a young group, establish a true playing style, to have a bigger impact on these players over the course of the next few years," Wahl said. That playing style will be attractive, possession-based soccer, he explained.
Austin FC's approach most closely mirrors LAFC's in that regard, one of the clubs they took inspiration from. Wahl added he paid a visit to one of his former clubs, the Seattle Sounders, who are "doing a lot of great things with their academy."
“In terms of which club I’ve taken some things from and been interested in, our approach in what age group we’re starting with is similar to LAFC," Wahl said. "They took a gradual approach, starting with younger age groups. It’s showing to be successful now."
Wahl was quick to add multiple times that nothing can be an exact replica of another academy. Every city is different, every club is different. So, what constitutes success for Austin FC's newly-formed U-14 side?
“In the near-term, for this specific team, when age-eligible, qualifying and doing well at GA Cup is a goal of ours," Wahl said. "Once our MLS team is here, having players get training opportunities and eventually signing for the professional team. We want to be producing Homegrown players every year—that’s our goal.”
Austin FC won't see players matriculate into the first team for years to come, but that's fine. Just with most decisions, Austin FC have taken the long view. When it's time, they'll have a strong influence of local talent.
“That’s not my decision to make, that’ll come down to how good the players are and if they deserve these opportunities," Wahl said. "But I believe our club is going to value Homegrown players. If they’re good enough, they’ll be given the chance.
“[Patience is] hugely important," Wahl added. "Becoming a professional soccer player is not an easy thing to do, and also giving players the intangible skills to allow them to be successful in whatever pursuit they end up taking. Hopefully it’s professional soccer, but having that long-lasting impact on players is important to us.”