While Europe has long been considered the home of “Major League Football” and South America has often hosted teams that were nothing short of Futbol dynasties, The Great 48 has been picking up steam when up it comes to not only the quality of play we can display here, but in the enthusiasm of the supporters (aka “fans” for the uninitiated) that loyally follow the clubs they often will to victory.

In recent years, Texas has been the home to two of the MLS’s best teams. The Dynamo of Houstonhave been perennial contenders that took home the MLS Cup as the league’s champion in both 2006 and 2007 (after entering the league in 2005, which makes the back-to-back titles even more impressive). As for the Frisco-based FC Dallas (formerly the Dallas Burn), they were a sad, “own-goal” away from being crowned champions this past season when they lost a heart-breaker to the Colorado Rapids.

Perhaps even more impressive than the on-field credentials that each team has built is the devotion and organization of the folks that support each team for each home-game (not to mention many road-games). Whether it’s the Texian Army in support of The Dynamo, or The Inferno in support of FC Dallas, each group makes clear their intentions to any who may wonder: To fully and vocally encourage their team at all times throughout the 90 minutes of each game.

By organizing pre-game tailgate parties that often end with a coordinated group “march to the match,” these fans are showing all others what it’s like to really be a supporter in far more than name only.

Chants? Check. Group Songs? Check. Coordinated color clothing? Check.

Such details are common-place in Europe and other soccer hotbeds, but here in the states, outside of a few college football-crazy spots, such obvious fanaticism has withered away from our professional sports landscape as many of the prices to attend events have made it so that the average fan is unable to attend regularly. With both Houston and Dallas, strides are made to include fans of all tax-brackets. Cheap to free parking, regular ticket-discounting programs and even drink specials make it easier for people to come equipped and ready to support their favorite squad.

For information on both the teams and the official supporter groups, see below:

Houston Dynamo:

FC Dallas:

The Hoops are off to a 3-1-1 start in preseason, the latest victory a 9-0 mauling of Florida International University. Kenny Cooper scored four second half goals in that affair. Granted, FIU is a college team that hasn’t even officially started practicing for their spring season, but it’s nice to get a nine goal game under your belt all the same.

In terms of the impending cutdown to a 24-man roster, the Hoops have some difficult decisions to make. Should they keep 5 strikers? Should they deal a developmental player? Will they sign an attacking midfielder, like rumored target Walter Gaitan?

Whenever FCD travels to Brazil each spring, as they are scheduled to do in the next week, they have enjoyed good training plus player acquisitions. Brazilian partner Club Atletico Paranaense has loaned FC Dallas a couple of nice players so far: the recently-departed attacker Ricardinho and the current starting right winger, Andre Rocha. Odds are FC Dallas will bring back another loaner from CAP and increase Portuguese-fluent Dallas coach Schellas Hyndman’s brood of Brazilians.

There’s a likelihood that Kenny Cooper could be off to Europe during the summer transfer window, so it will be important for the Hoops to be on their guard for that eventuality and put another top-rate striker on their radar. As for the defense, it is rounding into form. The signing of American defender Steve Purdy from 1860 Munich promises an expected Purdy-Drew Moor center back tandem with open competition at both fullback spots. The midfield is also taking shape. Unless there’s a top attacking midfielder signed between now and opening day, the position is Dax McCarty’s to lose. The starting wingers will be Dave van den Bergh on the left and Andre Rocha on the right. Pablo Richetti will captain the team while playing defensive midfield.

In their last game, FC Dallas earned a 1-1 draw Saturday against BK Hacken of the Swedish first division. That brings their preseason record to 3-1-2. It’s late February, less than a month before first kick, but Hoops’ fans have a lot to like in this collection of talent. There is, in fact, reason for optimism heading into the 2009 season.

Austin is a city that could one day harbor aspirations to host an MLS team. They’ve taken great steps in the right direction with an upstart minor league soccer franchise, the Austin Aztex.

aztexAztex owner and president Phil Rawlins explained his motivation in bringing Texas soccer to the hill country, “I am delighted to have the opportunity to bring a top class professional soccer franchise to Austin. Central Texas has long been a hot-bed of young soccer talent with over 35,000 kids playing the game locally. Our club gives these youngsters and talented players throughout Texas something to aim for and the chance of playing soccer at the very highest level. I am very excited about the affiliation agreement with Stoke and the European exposure that gives both the Aztex and our players. My goal is to make the Aztex a community-based club that the Austin area can be proud of”.

The club signed Brazilian winger Sullivan Silva, and ex-Watford and Stoke City striker Gifton Noel-Williams. Open tryouts have just taken place to fill out the roster, which now includes Kyle Brown and Gareth Evans, and the team looks to be taking shape. With splash signings and an aggressive marketing campaign, the Aztex are hoping to make soccer a permanent part of the Austin sports scene.

The Aztex will certainly have their mettle tested when they face top MLS sides in the pre-season. Austin faces the New England Revolution on February 28th, Houston Dynamo on March 7th and MLS Champions Columbus Crew on March 14th. No doubt Rawlins is hoping his team will prove equal to these early tests and enjoy a great inaugural season.