After a rocky start in the mid-1990s, Major League Soccer continues to go from strength to strength. The league is on sound financial footing, features a good (and improving) standard of play, and it's expanding. Currently sitting at 19 teams, new teams in New York City and Orlando begin play in 2015, with Miami following in 2017.
It's been expected for some time that Atlanta will soon awarded the league's 23rd franchise as well, but Austin remains in the mix for number 24, which league commissioner Don Garber has said he wants to see on the field before the end of the decade. Garber mentioned Austin, along with Minneapolis, St. Louis and San Antonio as being in the mix, and despite some local reports, there's still a ver strong shot that Austin's first top-level professional sports team will be the kind of football that gets discussed a little bit less than the Longhorns here on BC.
MLS has worked out a good formula for its teams, and it's something that Garber has very clearly spoken about: he's interested in having teams play in cities' urban core. At first glance, many people might think that would rule Austin out -- but conditions are gathering to make this a very real possibility. As has been discussed on this site and elsewhere, the Frank Erwin Center is living on borrowed time, and the City of Austin has made no secret of its desire for a larger convention and events facility to host national and international-scale events.
The Austin American-Statesman facility on South Congress and Town Lake has been cited as a leading contender for such a facility, and bringing soccer into the mix there would both make a lot of sense but also help bolster Austin's already strong MLS bid. The site and surrounding area -- mostly TxDOT buildings and older apartments -- have thus far been immune from the building going on further west, but are ripe for redevelopment and would serve as a strong anchor for the regeneration of Lady Bird Lake's southeastern shore as well as spur some much-needed transportation and infrastructure improvements in the area.
Austin brings a lot to the table in other was, as well. There's strong grassroots support from the Austin community, in which soccer has always been well-supported and well-followed. Austin remains the largest US city without a top-level pro team, and it's only getting bigger. Political support is lining up behind the push too.
All of this isn't happening just by circumstance, either, as a well-organized local group is already making moves to line up an investing partner and push forward on a venue for the team. With Austin's demographics, economics, and evolution as a city all lining up well, getting an MLS franchise remains a strong possibility.