Dave Greeley spoke passionately to a room full of excited soccer fans, while more than 1,000 miles away, another group could only read and watch in disbelief.
Speaking to a packed house at Black Sheep Lodge in South Austin Wednesday night, the Precourt Sports Ventures president shed even more light on Columbus Crew SC’s prospective move to Austin.
“We’re here because after four years of looking at the team and seeing where MLS is going, generally speaking, we see Seattle, Portland, Atlanta and Orlando and we think our job is to be better than them,” Greeley said. “Precourt Sports Ventures has a vision and we look at Austin as a modern-day trendsetter for MLS.”
Crew SC owner Anthony Precourt announced last month plans to move the club, the first the join Major League Soccer in 1996, from Columbus to Austin — barring a new downtown stadium being built in Ohio.
While a new stadium seems to be the only thing that could keep the Crew in Ohio, a new stadium here in the Austin area is likely the the biggest hurdle in the process of moving the team from Columbus to Central Texas. Precourt has said the bew stadium here would be privately funded, and the group is determined on finding a location in downtown Austin.
Greeley spoke about a recent road trip to Portland to watch the Timbers play. Instead of a big parking garage that fans flock to in their cars, people walk or bike to and from the stadium and can easily head to restaurants and other places straight from the venue.
“It’s a proven formula, being downtown in MLS make sense,” Greeley said. “It’s the score for 21st century America. For us to get the right site, it will catapult this club and what it means for the community for decades moving forward.”
There will be a resolution before the Austin City Council on Nov. 9 suggesting the City of Austin work with Precourt Sports Ventures in looking at city-owned land for a privately financed stadium, which might include underutilized parkland near the downtown core.
Greeley completely ruled out using Darrell K. Royal Stadium as a placeholder and said there is no deal with anybody regarding a place to play in the interim.
In addition to the organization's desire to build a 20,000-seat stadium, Greeley said PSV is planning to build a world-class training facility to house the first team and academy.
“It’s going to be authentically Austin,” Greeley said. “It’s going to be very welcoming and very connected to the site. Different sites will warrant different designs and construction, but we’re going to be very sensitive to the surrounding community and what makes sense for Austin.”
Columbus midfielder Kekuta Manneh played for the Texas Rush, located just outside of Houston, before moving to Lonestar SC in Austin and spending a year with the Austin Aztex in 2012.
Greeley said connecting with the youth soccer community in Austin is important. Teaching the community about all the levels of the soccer pyramid can be helped by current Crew head coach and sporting director Gregg Berhalter, who has spent time overseas and with the U.S. Men's National Team.
He wanted the night to be completely focused on Austin, but inevitably, the narrative shifted to Ohio and the large group of fans voicing their displeasure at the move on Twitter.
“There is an avid, dedicated fan base of the Crew that is as strong as many teams in the league,” he said. “Our challenge is we don’t have broad-based community support. That’s based on 22 years of history and tradition and legacy.”
When Precourt bought the club in 2013, he knew it was an original MLS club and wanted to help the Crew become one of the best in the league. Columbus has made the playoffs in three of the four seasons since 2014, advanced to MLS Cup in 2015 and is currently leading New York City FC 4-1 on aggregate with the second leg set for Sunday in the Bronx.
“He’s a great man and he’s been dragged through the coals,” Greeley said. “He’s been misrepresented. That’s not right. He’s one of the finest owners in Major League Soccer. He’s going to be a great owner for our club in Austin.”
The reason for the entire move was summed up with an anecdote from Wayne Gretzky in which the hockey player responded to a question about why he was so great. The Hall of Famer said ‘A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great player plays where the puck is going to be.’
Greeley sees the parallels in moving the Crew to Austin.
“Soccer is in a different place in time in 2017 than it was in 1996,” he said. “This is about us and Austin. As Precourt Sports Ventures looks at Austin, we love where (things are) today. But we love where it’s going tomorrow better.”