On Saturday, the Austin FC Academy teams start what promises to be an historic chapter in their development — a Spring 2021 season that will bring them to a new home at St. David’s Performance Center, while building on successes and lessons from this past Fall.
As Austin FC Academy Director Tyson Wahl notes, there’s still a bit of uncertainty to navigate as well, as the nation works to emerge from the pandemic. Wahl notes that there’s a schedule for the Texas MLS Next teams planned through April, and at some point during this phase, league officials will work toward a more complete season schedule.
That would potentially take Austin FC Academy players to June, and should travel restrictions be lifted, could even put teams from the Colorado Rapids and Sporting Kansas City academies into the mix.
The season will also be a momentous one as the Academy teams are scheduled to make the St. David’s Performance Center their new home during the spring season.
“We’re going to spend a lot of time there,” Wahl remarked. “It’ll be a big moment for our Academy. It's a big step for us, adding professionalism and resources to help improve our Academy.” Wahl notes that the new fields, serving as the Academy’s new home for game days as well as for practice, will be an immediate difference maker. He’s also excited about the classroom and gym spaces, which he notes will allow the work they’re already doing to be more simplified and professional.
Wahl also notes that just having first team players in proximity to Academy players will be significant. “That’s a huge motivator for Academy kids, to realize that this is a real opportunity. You're not there yet, and there's a ton of work to do, but you can reach and you can dream. And that's probably the biggest asset we have in terms of training in the same space as the first team.”
There’s also the possibility of the Generation adidas tournament, currently on hold but in discussions for rescheduling as the pandemic allows. The U15s are set to debut in the 2021 edition of the youth tournament, which in a typical year features top international academies as well as academy squads from throughout MLS. The proposed 2021 edition of the tournament would potentially provide the U15s the chance to test themselves against academy teams from different regions. Wahl, who attended the 2019 final, describes the event as “really inspiring,” and welcomes the chance for Austin FC to be part of it.
In the meantime, though, Wahl’s teams will face familiar foes in the opening phase of the Spring 2021 season, starting with San Antonio FC in San Antonio this week. The U14s and U15s will play their SAFC counterparts, while the U13s — due to a covid situation involving the SAFC U13s — will play a friendly against another San Antonio-based opponent.
The teams, who have been practicing over the last month after a three-week break, are excited to get back into match form and build on what they learned in 2020. “We’re back into the rhythm and the base fitness has returned based on the work we've been doing,” Wahl said about the team’s work to return to competitive play. While lessons about playing out of the back, being mindful of the team’s shape on their field, and exhibiting patience in the attack are all Academy coaching touchstones, there’s one element of the squads’ play that Wahl will be keeping an eye on this Saturday.
“We started to see our fullbacks getting into the attack more, and I think both the U14 and U15 teams are doing that pretty well now,” Wahl observed about the team’s evolution. “I think they’ve gotten more confident with that across the past couple months, and that's going to be something that I think will continue to improve.”