Soccer is a game for the passionate.
The fans are passionate. The players are talented and passionate. The team owners are patient and passionate. And like the team owners, Roberto Silva, General Manager of the Austin Bold soccer club is talented, patient and passionate.
I spoke with Silva at the Austin Bold Media Day on Tuesday, January 22, 2019.
Roberto Silva arrived in the Austin Bergstrom International Airport on January 14, 2014 with his wife, two children and all their worldly possessions in nine bags of checked luggage. Roberto proudly showed me the picture of the moment on his phone, just as he did the day before to his players at their first practice.
The Austin Bold is the first professional soccer club in central Texas since 2015, when the Austin Aztex ceased operations. It was the Aztex that brought Roberto and his family to Austin for its single season in the United Soccer League.
Rene van de Zande, the Aztex principle owner, started the team on shoestring funding and succeeded in building excitement. That was until historic flooding in May 2015 shutdown his pitch at the downtown House Park location. A mid-season relocation to Kelly Reeves Field, located in far northwest Austin, lost the excitement and the team.
So what’s different with the Bold? “Couldn’t be more different,” said Silva. For the first time in Austin’s professional soccer history, the team will play in a proper stadium, on a regulation field, with no football lines, and be able to service alcoholic beverages to the fans. “We have a home,“ Silva said.
And this difference comes from Bobby Epstein, the Austin Bold’s principle owner and CEO of the Circuit of the Americas (COTA). Epstein has street-credentials when it comes to soccer. His passion dates to the 1970’s, watching the North American Soccer League in Dallas. More recently, he plays every Wednesday at his home in a field setup in the backyard, and Sunday’s at Onion Creek.
According to Silva the biggest difference is the quality of the players. They already are the most valuable team in the United Soccer League (USL), by 100 Euros, with only 14 players officially on roster. That margin is expected to increase to 3 million Euros when the full roster is announced.
Silva keep’s his goals simple: insure the players have a good time; insure the fans have a good time; and, no surprise, insure the owners have a good time. “And I know if we accomplish those three, we’ll be able to win the championship“ Silva said.
For the players, “we are trying to create a special culture in the organization,” Silva said.
There is no salary cap in USL, allowing the Bold to acquire the best available talent that fits the culture and the chemistry Silva is trying to create. “Salary cap goes to how much ownership is willing to spend on the process. We are thankful enough for an ownership that is delivering to us more than we expect (by way of player talent).”
World-class players require a world-class playing surface. Anything else could be a demotivator. The owner removed the Barcelona FC Development Academy pitch, which Silva rate a 6 out of 10, and replace it with a surface he rates a 9 or a 10.
And the head coach, Marcelo Serrano, is the component that brings it all together. “We want someone who could bring a good environment,“ Silva said. The 39-year-old Brazilian has eight years coaching experience. This will be Serrano’s first in the US.
Ownership has given Marcello and Roberto the freedom to do what they think is best. “We on the second full day with squad and I feed we did it right,” Silva added. “We’re on the right track with the players.”
The Bold are true believers in developing a grass root fan culture. When first considering a team, the principles approached the MLS, who advised growing a grass-root fan culture to be successful.
Silva has a full team from COTA working on creating a very unique fan experience. He promises additional details when the time is right.
Part of the game day experience is ease of getting to the venue and the ease of parking. It’s a misperception that COTA is difficult to get to. 90% of Austin is within 30 to 35 minutes of COTA during game times. And with 30,000 parking spaces, it will take 5 minutes to go from parking lot to your seat.
Silva’s believes he can achieve his final goal, insure the owner’s are happy, by focusing on the players and the fans. Certainly, Epstein has provide all the ingredients to make that happen.
Silva has three years to work on these goals before the arrival of the Austin FC, the city’s MLS team. Both teams will be competing for the same entertainment dollar.
“We agree to a competition, but it has to be a fair competition,” Silva said.