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By ESPN Staff
Jan 24, 2008

USL-1 headed to Austin in 2009

The United Soccer Leagues announced a groundbreaking moment for sports in Austin as the city will soon be home to a USL First Division soccer franchise. The new club, Austin Aztex, will play in the USL First Division beginning in the 2009 season and will be affiliated with current English Championship side Stoke City FC.

The USL franchise has been acquired by Austin Football Holdings LLC, (AFH) under the ownership of British-born business entrepreneur Phil Rawlins. An Austin resident, Rawlins is also an owner and director of Stoke City FC, who play in the English Championship. He has held an ownership interest in Stoke City FC for more than seven years and brings a wealth of management experience in soccer operations. Founded in 1863, the club is the second oldest professional soccer club in the world. It currently sits four points out of first at fourth in the Championship with a shot of promotion to the English Premier League.

"I am delighted to have the opportunity to bring a top class professional soccer franchise to Austin," said Rawlins. "Central Texas has long been a hot-bed of young soccer talent with over 35,000 kids playing the game locally. Today's announcement gives these youngsters and talented players throughout Texas something to aim for and the chance of playing soccer at the very highest level. I am very excited about the affiliation agreement with Stoke and the European exposure that gives both the Aztex and our players. My goal is to make the Aztex a community-based club that the Austin area can be proud of."

The Austin Aztex will have an official affiliation with Stoke City FC, which will begin immediately. The affiliation will include the English club holding their summer training camp in Austin, scouting for talent both locally and across the US, exchanging players with the Aztex and sharing best practices between the two clubs.

Stoke City FC Chief Executive Tony Scholes welcomed the Austin Aztex with these words: "Working with someone that we know and respect like Phil Rawlins, in a booming soccer marketplace like the States, made our official affiliation an easy decision for Stoke City. We feel certain that the Aztex will be a major success both in Austin and across the US, and look forward to a long and mutually profitable relationship between Stoke City and the Austin Aztex."

"For the past few years, USL has been dedicated to expanding our relationships beyond the shores of North America and this announcement is another landmark moment in this quest," said USL founder and President Francisco Marcos. "I firmly believe that Phil Rawlins understands, and is fully committed to, the concept of international relationships as the way to speed up American player development and to further the creation of thriving soccer culture in the US. Following in the footsteps of Crystal Palace Baltimore, who began play last season, and of our recently announced partnership with West Ham United, this is a significant moment in the history and growth of the USL First Division. This announcement of the USL First Division's return to Texas is also representative of the league's commitment for growth as we continue our discussions in multiple markets for additional expansion clubs west of the Mississippi."

The name and logo represents the diverse community of Austin, blending the state's name in an adaptation of the Aztecs. The Aztec empire was a dominant force from the 14th-16th centuries in Central America whose influences are still present in today's Latino culture. The Aztec temple is also representative of the club's pyramid structure of teams (from Youth to Pro) and is the focal point of the logo with the state flag as the backdrop.

The Austin Aztex will immediately begin their search for a club Head Coach. Parties interested in the position should hold a minimum of a UEFA "A" license or equivalent and have more than ten years of professional coaching experience. Applicants can send their resume to coaches@austinaztex.com.

As part of today's news, AFH also announced that it will be acquiring the controlling interest in the Austin Stampede, who were recently announced as an expansion team in the USL Premier Development League (PDL). The Stampede will immediately become the Austin Aztex U23 team and will compete in the Southern Conference, Mid South Division in 2008.