EDITORIAL – Everyone remembers where they were on September 11th, 2001. Most of us would have been at home or at work watching the tragic events unfold on T.V. Austin FC Academy General Manager Tyson Wahl knows exactly where he was and what he was preparing to do that day. It should have been the highlight of his young career.
Austin FC Academy, Tyson Wahl Providing a Path-to-Pro
‘I was lucky enough to make the US Men’s Youth World Cup team, so we were in Trinidad and Tobago at the time.’ Up until that point, Wahl was enjoying the experience, competing hard for his country and partying with his teammates in the tropics. ‘We were young’, said Wahl, who at the time was just 16 years old, ‘I mean, we understood what was happening back home, how significant it was, but not as well as I understand it now as an adult, you know?’
The adults at the time weren’t taking any chances. ‘I remember the reaction from security, there were definitely safety concerns. They added a bunch of Trinidad and Tobago security guards who were walking around our hotels with rifles.’ The matches were played out and the tournament completed, with moments of silence before each game, Wahl recalls poignantly.
Today, it’s Wahl with the responsibility for young players, as he leads the development of Austin FC’s Academy program.
As General Manager, Wahl has oversight of every aspect of the Academy program, influencing the direction of its U13, U14, and U15 teams. Wahl and his coaches are working hard and smart to ensure that they deliver an exemplary Academy experience.
‘It’s so important that we’re able to provide dedicated coaches and staff to lead each team. No one is coaching four or five times with different teams on a weekend.’ Wahl elaborates, ‘Our coaches are able to pay attention to the individual player with video analysis and access to more research, more resources, and do all the extra things that I just don’t think coaches back in the day, back in my generation, were able to do.’
As a youth player, Wahl may not have benefited from the progressive coaching practices or technological advantages afforded academy programs today, but he did alright. Growing up in Southern California, an area of the country consistently known for being a highly competitive hotbed of young soccer, Wahl played with the illustrious Irvine Strikers FC. The Strikers program was and remains renowned for identifying and nurturing some of the best young players in the country. Their alumni include USMNT players Bobby Wood, Benny Feilhaber, Chris Pontius, among others.
Wahl, who himself went on to represent five MLS teams across a 10-year stretch, suited-up for the Strikers alongside such notable names as current Los Angeles FC left-back Jordan Harvey, and 3-time MLS Defender of the Year Chad Marshall. ‘Our team was stacked. It was more or less like the quality of a really, really high-level academy team if academies had existed.’ Wahl reflects, ‘Probably everyone on that roster is good enough to go at least semi-pro in today’s time. With the amount of opportunities there are now between MLS and USL, even more of those players could have gone through.’
By his own admission, Wahl’s progress from club soccer to youth international to MLS player was a combination of hard work, making the most of his opportunities, and a little good fortune. As such, his path to pro, like so many of his generation, isn’t so easily replicable.
Hence why the academies of today are so important. Identifying talent so often diluted across multiple clubs, ensuring that less of it slips through the net, and providing a structure for scalability so that more young players have a shot of making it to the top of the game is hugely important to Wahl. And he clearly believes that Austin FC’s senior leadership shares his passion.
‘I’m so grateful that the organization has placed a lot of importance on the academy. I think the biggest sign was that Anthony Precourt, our owner, wanted to start the academy two years before Austin FC was even playing. So that’s a huge, huge sign. And then also bringing Claudio (Reyna) in was another big gesture to kind of demonstrate how much the club supports the academies, because he’s very supportive in the youth space. He helped build the academy and he’s obviously really closely tied in with US soccer. He previously worked for the technical department within US Youth Soccer. He’s super passionate about it, too, I mean, he is aware of all of our players.’
According to Wahl, Reyna provides more than just inspiration. ‘It’s kind of remarkable to me because his core responsibility right now is helping form the first team, but he’s still super aware of a lot of young players all around the country. He’s very interested, very passionate, and very supportive of the Academy program’.
When asked if he thinks all of this points to direct-line opportunities for Austin FC Academy players to feature on the first team roster in the future, Wahl replies without hesitation. ‘I definitely do. I think it’s fully integrated.
Because First Team Head Coach Josh Wolf was on board a year plus prior to the first team kicking off, we were able to meet a lot to talk about our game model, our style of play, what types of actions does he want to see on the field? We’ve fully replicated all the player profiles and a lot of our core exercises to really resemble the first team, although we’ll be doing it on a different level of speed, of course. But we want our players to be familiar with the language that the first team is using and share the same principles.’
With all of Austin FC’s teams soon to be sharing the club’s new training facility, Wahl anticipates Wolff and Reyna getting even more proximate to the Academy players. ‘Next year we’ll have U17. So, our goal is by the end of this year to have some of our players be considered, if they deserve it, for the chance to get some training opportunities with the first team. That’s one of our goals.
In youth soccer, winning isn’t – and shouldn’t be – everything. But Austin’s impressive record at all age levels in their first season suggests that Wahl and his team are creating something special. This GM has no doubt that the young talent is here in Austin. ‘It’s a growing city and this whole central Texas area is growing, as well. There’s a lot of passion here for youth soccer. There are a lot of Latino players with families who have been fans of soccer for a long time. There’s enough talent here to establish a really strong system, for sure.’
As we close out the interview, with Wahl needing to prepare for their season openers in San Antonio, I ask him what’s his why? What motivates him to do this job and do it well? His response is, as I’ve come to expect by now, a combination of raw enthusiasm and laser-focused dedication. ‘I’m obsessed with improvement. I love to see young players improve; that’s what drives me. I’m also very competitive at the same time. But I think even deeper than my competitiveness is that I love to help kids, help youth soccer players get better. I just love that process. I enjoy waking up and trying to do that every single day.’
Austin’s youth are in safe hands.