Austin Aztex Soccer

A few weeks ago I was complaining on Twitter about how we had entered the “dead” time of the year for sports. Being a big football and hockey fan, the middle of the summer is tough for me, especially working in a sports bar!  Several of my followers were quick to point out that baseball season was in full swing and the British Open was coming soon. A reporter I know also happened to mention that he was heading to Austin Aztex practice to do a story on the local soccer team. I was intrigued.  I gave him a shout on Twitter, noting that I was interested in checking out a game soon and within a few minutes, one of the team’s star forwards, Jamie Watson, made me a deal.  He said he would get me to my first Austin Aztex game if I would return the favor during hockey season and take him to his first Texas Stars hockey game.

Austin Aztex Forward #77 Jamie Watson

Jamie is actually from Dallas and a big Dallas Cowboys and Stars fan himself. Watson played college soccer for the University of North Carolina, spent time in the MLS with Real Salt Lake and FC Dallas and earned League MVP Honors with the Wilmington Hammerheads. He is one of the few players to have scored at all four levels of US Soccer and has been a fan favorite in every city where he has played. Jamie was nice enough to hook me up with a few free tickets so I could bring friends and I counted down the days to the big game  – July 31st where the Aztex would be taking on the Miami FC Blues. Of course, I had to do a little pre-game research about the Aztex and I discovered that the team is actually leading the league this season!  Having been to DC United MLS games before, I wanted to make sure I got the full Aztex experience so I reached out to the leader of Chantico’s Army, the Aztex supporters group.  I was assured that I was welcome to meet at The Tavern before the game and would be required to bang on a drum at least 37 times and shout obscenities at the officials at least 7 times (of which 3 must be in Spanish). Sounds like fun, right?

Members of Chantico's Army cheer on their Aztex

The night of the game I met a few of the supporters before the game and was excited to see so many people really getting behind this team.  If there is one thing I know about soccer, it’s that the fans are some of the rowdiest of them all and they take every match very seriously. I was happy to see that this was true even in the USSF leagues. Chantico’s Army shows up in full force, complete with a Brazilian samba group that plays drum cadences throughout the game. Members of the Army also chant and keep time along with the drums on five gallon buckets, cowbells and even an empty keg. After each goal, the “She Devil” lets loose a flurry of confetti and the crowd erupts in celebration. I didn’t actually bang on the drum (although I’m sure they would have let me), but I definitely cheered along with the group and even brought a couple of signs for the team. If you are really looking to have a great soccer experience, sitting with the supporters group is the only way to go in my opinion (although if you have children, please know that the language is not always PG-rated. These guys are passionate about their team)!

From the time the first whistle was blown, I was hooked. The Aztex completed their season sweep of Miami during the July 31st contest, with a final score of 3-1.  Austin goals were scored by Eddie Johnson (assisted by Leonard Griffin) ; Lawrence Olum (assisted by Jamie Watson) and Kendell McFayden (assisted by Yordany Alvarez).  The game itself was exciting, but what really made the experience special was how the players interacted with the crowd. After the game concluded the team opens up the fence and allows fans to go on the field for autographs. It was really inspiring to see the athletes interacting with the children especially. It’s no surprise the Austin Aztex were awarded the Community Relations Award from the Austin Chamber of Commerce last year. I think the accessibility of the players post-game is certainly one thing that has led to such a strong fan base for the team. After the game, several fans headed to Cuatro’s for a small meet-up with the players and some post-game refreshments. Cuatro’s hosts the Aztex after every game and fans who didn’t get a chance to catch their favorite player on the field will likely find him having a post-game meal here.

The Austin Aztex are currently on a 7-game winning streak and will be traveling to Puerto Rico for a match against the Islanders this weekend. If you are looking for something to fill the summer void, I would highly recommend checking out an Aztex game. There are still 3 more home games (played at House Park – 15th and Lamar) remaining in the regular season. Tickets are affordable for the whole family or a group of friends. Come out to the Tavern pre-game and cheer on your local soccer stars!

*In the August 7 match vs. the Tampa Bay Rowdies, Jamie Watson had two assists, but he suffered a fractured shoulder. It is estimated that he will be out 2-3 weeks. He will likely be spending a lot of time on Twitter (@JamieWatson22) and playing Pro Evolution Soccer on XBox360. Wishing Jamie a speedy recovery!

*Complete photo album of the July 31st match, shot by my friend Mike Neumann can be found on Flickr.