‘It’s a matter of time’: Fans campaign for women’s pro soccer in Austin as US national team hold training camp
AUSTIN (KXAN) — In an unusually wet and cold week in central Texas, some of the best soccer players in the country are gearing up ahead of some key games.
Austin is once again in the national football spotlight as the USA women’s team hosts a training camp at Austin FC’s training ground, St. David’s Performance Center.
But exposure comes with scrutiny, and the absence of a professional women’s team in Austin comes across as a gaping hole.
The Houston Dash are the only National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) team in Texas, but the women behind the “NWSL 2 Austin” campaign are convinced that change is coming.
“The biggest question we always get asked is ‘when is this going to happen?’ said Michelle Frasch, co-founder of the campaign, “We think it’s only a matter of time.”
Frasch and Christine Hanley, the other co-founder of NWSL 2 Austin, said demand was not an issue.
They reminisce about last June, when a raucous crowd sold out the Q2 stadium for a women’s national team exhibition game against Nigeria – the first-ever game in the arena.
This week’s winter training camp marks the USWNT’s second visit to Austin — the men’s team has also been twice in the past six months — and the players are impressed.
First-choice goaltender Alyssa Naeher, who plays for the NWSL’s Chicago Red Stars and played 78 times for her country, said she would “love” to see a team in the Texas capital.
“I think Austin would be a perfect fit for the NWSL,” Naeher said.
“I think the facilities here are excellent, they’ve done a phenomenal job with the resources they have and the pitches, the training grounds, the locker rooms, the weight rooms and all that kind of stuff.”
“I would love to see a women’s team here one day,” added Naeher. “I think it would be a great place.”
The NWSL is growing steadily, with two expansion teams joining in 2022, based in Los Angeles and San Diego, bringing the number of teams to 12.
Hanley pointed out that Central Texas women’s soccer fans should travel to Houston to watch a pro game. Geographically, the closest team to Houston is in Kansas City.
“It’s always been a dream not to have to drive three hours to watch women’s football,” Hanley said. “Our goal is basically to level the playing field and give women the same opportunities here.”
Some of the most commercially successful NWSL teams are tied to Major League Soccer teams.
The Portland Thorns, which have the highest average attendance in the league with over 14,000 spectators, are affiliated with the Portland Timbers and the teams share a stadium.
In Texas, it’s the same situation with the Dash and the Houston Dynamo. While the Dash has struggled with attendance, the Dynamo is near the bottom of the MLS list – suggesting demand in the city isn’t comparable to Austin.
Frasch and Hanley said they believe Austin FC owner Anthony Precourt wants to bring women’s soccer to Austin.
“You can only imagine if they had a sellout crowd for the women’s national team before, how much money the owners could make if they brought in a women’s team,” Hanley said. “So whether it’s through an existing owner or a new owner, it’s just a smart business plan.”
“We had brief conversations with Precourt when he was in the fan section at Austin FC games,” Frasch added. “You can tell it ignites as soon as we talk about it.”
The Q2 Stadium lease agreement specifically mentions that it is approved for NWSL use as well as MLS, Frasch said.
“Ownership and the front office aren’t going to give us the answers we want to hear right now, just because they don’t want to mess things up,” she said. “But I think it’s coming. It is sure to come. »
Austin has an elite football facility in place, fans are on board, and Austin FC ownership seems interested, but there are still hurdles to overcome.
These include finding an investor to provide the money to launch the team, whether it’s Precourt or someone else – nine of the NWSL’s 12 teams are not affiliated with a club in the MLS.
The instability of the league itself is another obstacle. In October, the NWSL launched an investigation into its own handling of sexual abuse allegations involving a former coach, who was fired when the allegations became public in September.
Despite this, NWSL 2 Austin activists hope women’s soccer can thrive in the Texas capital.
“The fan culture that we’ve built in this city, it’s a very inclusive space,” Frasch said.
She felt there could be a team in Austin “maybe closer to 2024.”
“You always want to leave things better than you found them,” Hanley said. “Just knowing Austin FC can help pave the way for little girls to dream of continuing to play professional football, not just stopping at the college level.”