The Oppo: Austin Bold FC
A bit of a mystery
In the second installment of our series reviewing the Legion’s 2021 opponents we take a look at Austin Bold FC, which will come to Birmingham on June 19th. Interestingly, the first two teams we have examined in this series are the only independent teams representing cities which also have MLS teams. But that’s about the only point of comparison between the two.
Austin Bold entered the league in 2019, co-debutants with the Legion, but this will be the first meeting between the two teams, as Austin is in the Western Conference. For 2021 they have been placed in the Mountain Division.
The Bold are not to be confused with any other teams that have played in the Texas capital, most obviously not Austin FC of MLS which opens play this season, nor either of the two Austin Aztex teams, both of which are defunct. They are owned by Bobby Epstein, who reportedly has an ongoing PR feud with Anthony Precourt, the primary owner of Austin FC. Epstein is best known as owner of the Circuit of the Americas, the Formula 1 racetrack in Austin. COTA is given a nod in the Bold logo, which includes a subtle rendition of this monstrosity:
The team performed well in its inaugural season, finishing 8th in the West and losing on penalties in the second round of the playoffs after playing Phoenix Rising to a 0-0 draw. In 2020 they finished 3rd in Group D, missing the playoffs. In that group they were beaten by San Antonio and Tulsa, whom the Legion will also face this season, but ahead of the Rio Grande Valley Toros and OKC Energy (another 2021 Legion opponent).
Austin’s head coach is Marcelo Serrano, who had led the team since its inception. The 41-year-old Brazilian has little head coaching experience prior to taking the Bold position, his only previous command being the US Virgin Islands national team. The remainder of the coaching squad includes no well-known names. As such, the team’s management is something of a closed book.
The Bold’s official roster includes just 20 players at the moment, which may partly explain the late start to their season (see below). In comparison, in 2020 they had a total of 32 players. That’s quite a drop, and a lot of holes to fill. Notably, they have just one goalkeeper on the squad right now (newly-acquired Frenchman Hugo Fauroux). As such it is difficult to assess how strong the roster is going to be.
Possibly the biggest loss to the team was forward Billy Forbes, who is now with The Miami FC. He was Austin’s top scorer in 2020, although that isn’t saying a great deal as he accumulated just 7 goals, good to tie for 20th in the league.
Of the 20, just 12 were on the team in 2020. That suggests that the core of the team is barely holding together. Of the newcomers, none really stand out. Readers may recognize the name of Kofi Sarkodie, who has MLS experience, but at 30 is likely being brought on board mostly for his veteran presence. Also recognizable is Juan Pablo Torres, the young Georgia-born midfielder, who joins the team on loan from New York City FC of MLS.
That being said, they have managed to play a number of preseason games. They lost 2-0 at the Houston Dynamo on March 19th and 4-0 at FC Dallas four days later. They also beat Round Rock SC of the UPSL 6-1. In what may be the key game so far, they tied Mountain Division opponents Rio Grande Valley 1-1.
The Mountain Division may be the least predictable of the four division in the USL Championship this year, and Austin have not been given any real favors by the schedule planners in what is likely to be a tight competition. For a start, they don’t open play until May 15th, which is a bit odd given that they are located in a state that has been open a while already. That’s also a nearly a month behind the MLS Austin team. That means that the team’s schedule will be a tad compressed. Most importantly for the Legion, their game will be the 8th on Austin’s schedule in just over a month, and is the tail end of a 13-day 4-game road trip.
Austin Bold is a bit of a question mark. The roster is thin, they have a tough opening schedule and will be fighting Austin FC for fan loyalty. It’s going to be a rough season for them. Given that they are in the Mountain Division, their chances of making the playoffs are so-so at best. The division includes San Antonio, El Paso Locomotive and New Mexico United, who will likely take 3 of the 4 playoff spots. That leaves one up for grabs. The Colorado Springs Switchbacks are likely to be out of the running, which means that one spot will fought over by Austin, Rio Grande Valley and the unpredictable Real Monarchs.
Final Grade: C+
At this stage it is difficult to give Austin anything better than a low passing grade. Their preparation for the season has been slow so far, but their preseason results tend to suggest a potentially competitive team. Nevertheless, with a punishing schedule they are unlikely to pose much of a problem for the Legion.