KickerATX interview with Roberto Silva, GM of the Austin Bold

Roberto Silva came to the United States with, “a wife, two kids, and nine bags.” He moved to Austin simply because his sister lived here. However, with his experience in the business offices of some of Brazil’s top clubs, Silva became involved with the Austin Aztex during their exciting, but doomed 2015 season. He was promoted to GM after the 2015 Memorial Day floods destroyed the club’s House Park home, but the rot was too deep and the Aztex could not recover dissolving in 2017. Professional soccer was yet again lost to ATX.

That is until last year when Bobby Epstein, owner of Circuit of the Americas (COTA), fielded the Austin Bold for the 2019 USL Championship season. Between the collapse of the Aztex and the birth of the Bold, Roberto Silva worked as the Director of Special Events at COTA. So when the Bold came about, the perfect man for the job was already on staff.

It’s probably fair to say no one man has done more for the club than the affable Brazilian. He brought on manager and countryman Marcelo Serrano, manages player scouting and acquisitions, and all business aspects of club. Together with Serrano, Silva was able to recruit talented and experienced players from around the globe. Kléber, nicknamed “Gladiator”, has scored 200-some goals in Brazil’s top division. Edson Braafheid, a former Dutch international, has featured for Bayern Munich, and played in the 2010 World Cup Final. Xavi Báez was a Liga MX mainstay with over 200 appearances for Chivas Guadalajara. This wasn’t your average USL Championship squad.

Despite, or more likely because of, the unorthodox team design, the Bold performed well for an expansion club. They were able to slug their way to 8th in the Western Conference securing a play-off spot and beating LA Galaxy II in the first round to advance to a Conference Quarterfinal against Phoenix Rising. Playing away from home at a sold-out stadium, the Bold produced a stubborn 0-0 result and only lost after a penalty shoot-out that went 9 players deep ending 8-7.

Now entering their sophomore season, Kicker ATX got a chance to sit down with Roberto Silva ahead of the Bold’s first preseason match Sunday February 9th against FC Dallas at Toyota Stadium in Frisco.

KATX: The Austin Bold had a great first season finishing 8th in the USL Championship Western Conference, winning the Copa Tejas, and advancing to the Western Conference Quarterfinals in the play-offs. How do you reflect upon the club’s inaugural season?

RS: It was good. There are some very interesting challenges for a first year franchise. We are a USL team playing and training at a world class facility like Circuit of the Americas. We were a racetrack, we were never a soccer facility and to find a way to manage the situation and have the results that we did in the first year was very good. Not only that, but we broke some common conceptions. No other team in the history of USL had as many experienced players as we had: Kleber, Andre Lima, Edson Brafheid, Xavi Baez, Jermaine Taylor. There are so many experienced players we brought in and, to be honest, I got a ton of calls at the beginning of the season asking, “What are you doing? This is not gonna work in USL.” At the end of the season, people were calling saying, “It’s so fun to watch you guys!” Now you see lots of the teams making similar moves to us last year. But anyways, with all those challenges, I think it was a great year!

I agree. You had globally known players, they were exciting to watch, and you brought a unique style to USL last season.

And that’s what we want! When I was out there looking for a head coach, I would ask them, “Would you rather guarantee me a 1-0 win or go and try to win a game 4-3 with the risk of losing it?” And any coach that went for the 1-0 win, I cut them off. That’s not what we want. We want to create a fun and good environment. We have to provide an entertainment product to our fans. If it’s not fun they won’t come back.

I discuss with the players and [manager] Marcelo Serrano all the time: it doesn’t matter if the other team scores on you. You just have to score one more than them and you’ll win the game. They score four times and if you score five, you still win the game and everybody’s happy.

The team has been able to retain about 80% of last year’s squad for the upcoming season. What are your feelings about the upcoming season? 

Again that is something we did different than the rest of the league. When we signed our players last year, we signed most of them to either a two or three year deal. In USL, that is unthinkable and it’s something basically no one does. I tell people, I have the most calm off-season of any GM in the US because there is not much to do as we have the team pretty much set. We as an organization believe in continuity and think it will make the team stronger. We’re excited and I think we’re gonna have an even better season than last year.

Are you satisfied with the make-up of the squad or should fans anticipate additions to the roster?

There are going to be additions that we already know about, they just haven’t been announced yet.

Can you announce them here?

No not yet. My marketing guy will kill me.

I had to ask!

We have a couple of loans with international guys coming in and just waiting on their visa to be with us and to be announced. But again, I don’t think it’s going to be anything big that changes. I think our biggest signing of the year is bringing most of our team back.

What expectations are you setting?

The ownership told me two things: I want entertaining soccer and I want a winning team. That was the concept and we delivered that last year. Once in the playoffs, anybody can take the cup. It’s a bounce here, off the post there. For us, in the playoffs last year, if the ball doesn’t take a bad slip, we could have won that game against Phoenix Rising, the best team in the history of USL. For me, we got to the point where we could have won the league. Our expectation is to get to the same point as last year because once you’re in the play-offs, anything can happen.

That was such an unlucky result last year against Phoenix.

Yeah I know. I say I lost ten years of my life that game. Laughs. I think we showed up, nobody expected us to make it so hard for Phoenix that game, especially with their amazing second half of the season. It was good to go into a sold-out stadium against the best team in the history of the league and give them a very hard time.

The Bold will kick off their season on Sunday Feb 9th against FC Dallas. What are you expecting from the match?

It’s going to be an interesting one because it’s the 3rd or 4th preseason match for Dallas and for us it’s our first. Actually Luchi asked me this week if we could make it a longer game. They’re at the point where they can actually add 30 or 40 minutes to the game and unfortunately I said I can’t. I’m still short on my squad and it’s literally our second week of real preseason which is very early for a game. I consider this a fitness game for us. I don’t think there’s any result we are expecting from this game.

Last season, FC Dallas loaned Francis Atuahene and Ema Twumasi to the Bold. This season Brecc Evans is making his way to Austin. Can you comment on the relationship between Austin Bold and FC Dallas?

I’ve always had huge admiration for the Hunt family and FC Dallas. I worked with Atlético Paranaense in the past and I was involved with FC Dallas and Atlético during their partnership. I had a very close relationship with Fernando Clavijo and [Luiz] Muzzi and when André [Zanotta] came in, another close relationship. Good guy, good mindset, I think he’s going to be able to continue creating and moving forward in the same style of Clavijo and Muzzi in the past.

It makes a lot of sense for us to be close to FC Dallas. I’ve been involved in partnerships in the past and I gotta say, it was amazing how the front office and the coaching staff in Dallas got together with our front office and coaching staff to find solutions for the challenges that came up for us. So we’re excited! We know we can grow further and Dallas is happy with us and we’re happy with them. It couldn’t be better.

Is there an official partnership?

No I don’t think we need one. One of our philosophies here is to show your beliefs through your actions, not your words. A partnership on paper doesn’t mean anything without action. We decided that we don’t need a formal partnership, we need to make things happen. And I think we did.

For example, the stay here for both Francis and Ema was great for them. I would say it was amazing for Ema. We worked with him during the season and got him to a place where by the end of the season he was clearly the best player in our squad. When he came here, he actually came as the second man to Francis so it was great to see where he went. Then André [Zanotta] and Luchi [Gonzalez] are telling us, “Brecc is a good guy. Take Brecc,” and we talked to him and he’s very excited to be here because of everything he heard we did last year. When the good word starts to get out among the small world of GMs and technical directors, there are only good things to come.

Considering Brecc’s a 20 year old kid from Dallas, I bet he’s excited to live in Austin!

It’s easy to sell Austin! But even if it was the best city in the whole world and we had a team environment that was not good, the Dallas players would already know it. Francis and Ema would have brought that information back. No matter how good the city is, if your work environment is not good, you don’t want to be there. I think it just shows we’re doing the right things and we’re on the right path.

Let’s talk about Brecc Evans as a player. What does he bring to the Bold this season?

He helps us balance out the age. It’s important for us to have a balance of experienced players and young promising guys. Brecc told me he is so excited to go into the season and get learning and get development and I just love that mindset.

Can you talk about his play style a bit?

Well his playing shows it off. He’s very strong, very technical, and a tall guy. We were just on the field looking at him and I think he’s going to be the tallest one on the squad this year. Plays well with his feet, plays well with the head. I think we will help him develop the things he needs to develop. I think he will leave the year here reading the game a bit better and improve on small things. We’re excited. I think it’s going to be good for him and good for us.

You can’t ask for better mentors than Jermaine Taylor and Edson Braafheid.

That’s it! And it’s our deal and philosophy with those experienced players that they should embrace the young guys and help them. That happens naturally and we don’t even have to ask for it anymore. You see those things on a daily basis. You know sometimes we assign the young players what we call a “godfather.” We have a young local forward, Beto Avila, and André Lima is officially his “godfather.” We tell them this is the guy that’s going to be taking care of you and you see them together after training talking and learning. I think that’s important and it’s part of our model of a balance of experienced players and promising talent.

Does Brecc have a “godfather”?

I think he will have one soon, but like you said, we have so many defenders with experience that I don’t think he needs one specific. We have Jermaine, Edson, Amobi Okugo. Don’t forget Fabien Garcia with European experience. I can even tell you, here’s your scoop, Gustavo Rissi is being brought back on loan.

I got my scoop!

Laughs. There are so many different styles, experiences, and backgrounds on our team that there’s no way you can’t have a good learning experience.

The USL Championship seems to be flourishing and many teams are fielding extremely competitive squads. What do you think about the development of the league and what do you expect of the upcoming season for the league?

Nothing tells you more about the future of something than looking back on the past. If you look where USL was three years ago, six years ago, ten years ago and see where they are now, the future is very bright. There is no way the league won’t be a successful one for years to come. I think we overcame the point of [soccer] leagues in the history of the US where they don’t know if they will survive or what’s going to happen. That’s a done deal. There are two leagues in this country that are stable and that will be here for years to come: MLS and USL Championship. I think USL League One still needs to prove itself and I think USL League Two is an amateur league that has proved their business model. USL Championship is going to be great and it’s only going to get better year over year.

Can you make any predictions for this season?

Oh man, it’s too big of a league! If anybody can do that, go to Vegas and put some money on the table. There is still not enough consistency on the teams, there are many surprises that come up and I think it’s impossible for anyone to make predictions.

I think you’re right.

The only thing you can say is you know there are some clubs that will be strong. Phoenix will be strong, Indy will be strong, Tampa will have a strong squad. The big question is how the teams that made big changes will react?

If you look at our conference, which is really interesting, how will Tulsa do? Clearly on paper, they are doing a great job. They got great management, great ownership that is investing in the team, and brought some good players to the squad. But will that reflect in winning games or not? That is something no one can say now.

You got San Diego coming in with lots of experience and hype, but there going to go through the same challenges we went through last year. Is it going to be good or not? Then go back to El Paso who had an amazing first season and we all expect them to have even better second season. So my question is, who’s going to do bad? Everybody’s in good shape especially if I believe we will do well which I truly do.

So it’s going to be an exciting year on the field. A team can be doing not good in the first half of the season, but all of a sudden things change and they have a great season. If you won two or three games in a row, you go to the top four. It happened to us many times last season, man, it was a roller-coaster during the season. I think it’s a very, very competitive tournament. It is hard for us to find any other tournament in the world that is so balanced like USL is.

Any initiatives or events fans should be looking forward to?

We’re doing the Bold Challenge which is 100 kids versus the Bold. We have a partnership with Major League Rugby team Austin Gilgronis and we’re making improvements to the stadium. I already think we have one of the best stadiums in the league, but it’s going to get even better this year.

What are your thoughts on Austin FC coming to town?

There are more benefits than negatives. History has proven competition in markets generates more interest in those markets overall. As long as we’re able to deliver a good product on and off the field for the fans, I think [Austin FC] will be a good thing for us.

I think an Austin derby would be very exciting!

Yeah! That’s it. We have said this many times, we look forward to the US Open Cup next year! Hopefully we get lucky enough to cross on the path and for the city it would be great, it would be amazing for Austin FC and for us also. Again, I think there are more benefits for us in the process.

Roberto, it was so cool to talk to you! Thanks for your time!

Come and follow us. We have our home opener on March 7th against New Mexico United. Come and see us!

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