Bolstering the Premier Development League’s growing Texas presence, the AHFC Royals will take the field for their inaugural season in 2018, competing in the Mid South Division.
Alongside local rivals within the division, including Brazos Valley Cavalry F.C., FC Cleburne, Houston FC, Texas United and fellow new member club Corpus Christi FC, the Royals provide a top-level developmental home for both local players in their Albion Hurricanes FC youth program, as well as many alums of that program currently at the collegiate level. Leading that charge for the team is Mark Horton, General Manager of Albion Hurricanes FC, who’s making sure the team is prepared for its debut season in the PDL.
After attending the 2017 PDL Winter Summit, Horton and the Royals are preparing for a successful season both on and off the field. The club hopes to play attractive, competitive soccer while providing an entertaining and affordable game-day experience in the Greater Houston-area. During this busy time, Horton spoke with USLPDL.com on the club’s progress, hopes for 2018 and desire to lock horns with their Texas-based rivals.
A part of the United Soccer Leagues, which also operates the Division II USL, the newly-announced USL Division III and Super Y League, the PDL has served as the proven stepping-stone for aspiring professionals.
Nearly 70 percent of all MLS SuperDraft selections since 2010 have PDL experience, including a total of 59 alums chosen in 2017. Among the many players to have played in the PDL before making their professional debuts include Newcastle United FC defender DeAndre Yedlin, 2017 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year Tim Melia, 2017 MLS Defender of the Year Ike Opara and U.S. Men’s National Team members such as Darlington Nagbe, Brad Guzan, Geoff Cameron and Tim Ream.
PDL: What factors led you to seek PDL membership in 2018?
Mark Horton: We wanted to expand our pathway and opportunities for our current juniors and seniors, as well as the many AHFC alumni still playing at the collegiate level. The PDL has become the best pathway to the professional ranks in North America and we wanted to be part of it.
As well as providing great player opportunities, we also see the AHFC Royals being a focal point of our youth club to connect with the various communities we serve. In short, we aim to bring quality men’s soccer to as many people possible in an affordable and exciting manner.
PDL: How was your first experience at the PDL Winter Summit?
MH: The Summit was very impressive in its organization and was extremely professional, led by people with strong vision.
PDL: How are you approaching early 2018 in terms of preparation for the upcoming season?
MH: There’s lots to do with many challenges but it’s really exciting. The Winter Summit was really beneficial in providing a road map and we are currently going through our checklists of “to do” items both on and off the field.
It is a major undertaking and we are approaching every angle of our start-up as diligently as possible. We have some great people involved with great enthusiasm and positive attitudes which really helps.
PDL: What are you most looking forward to in your inaugural PDL season?
MH: Success both on and off the field. On the field, this can be measured in many ways, but if we can be competitive in games and play attractive soccer, while providing player opportunities and exposure for our players, that’d be a successful inaugural season. Off the field, we want to run a great overall organization and make sure our fans have an enjoyable experience.
PDL: You join a growing PDL footprint in Texas, with Brazos Valley Cavalry F.C., FC Cleburne, Houston FC, Texas United and Corpus Christi FC all in-state. How does having regional rivalries such as those with Brazos Valley and Houston FC benefit the club?
AHFC: We are thrilled to be part of a growing soccer culture in the Greater Houston-area, providing next-level soccer to those who love the game and want to see local players succeed and thrive. This is really exciting and we are looking forward to locking horns with our neighbors.
PDL: What are some goals you’d like to achieve as a club in 2018?
AHFC: The PDL is designed to be a developmental platform and the premier pre-professional league, so first and foremost, we want to provide as much exposure to our players as possible. In our inaugural season, if we can be successful in terms of wins and play attractive soccer in front of hundreds of fans with smiling faces, we will be happy.