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Austin soccer community mourns death of Wolfgang Suhnholz

Wolfgang Suhnholz, left, and Austin Aztex owner Phil Rawlins, pose with players on the team in 2008. Suhnholz guided the Aztex in its first year as an Under 23 squad that year. (Patrick Meredith for Statesman)

Long before Major League Soccer even existed, Wolfgang Suhnholz put Austin on the soccer map. Suhnholz died Friday at 73 years old.

He left a legacy as a world-class player both in his home country of Germany and throughout the United States, but especially here in Austin where his chance arrival in the 1980s began more than three decades of youth development and mentorship.

“He really was invested in this area and wanted to be here,” said Ron Dennie, now the boys Development Academy head coach at Lonestar Soccer Club. “That’s probably his biggest legacy. He could have chased the dream and gone to another job and been here and gone there. I know he genuinely enjoyed all the relationships he made in this city.”

Born Sept. 14, 1946 in Berlin, Suhnholz reached the pinnacle of German soccer as a player at Bayern Munich. If not for a broken leg in 1973, he likely would have featured alongside club teammates Franz Beckenbauer and Gerd Mueller on the West Germany squad that won the 1974 World Cup.

He came to the United States in 1975, first playing with the Boston Minutemen of the North American Soccer League before making stops in Toronto, Vancouver, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Anaheim. He won a championship in 1976 with the Toronto Metros-Croatia, and was named MVP of that year’s Soccer Bowl.

Suhnholz’s first visit to Austin, Dennie said, came while he was coaching for Vogelsinger soccer camps and made such an impression that parents convinced him to stay. From there, he launched the Austin Capitals, a club that later expanded and merged with the Austin Flyers to become Lonestar in 2004. He later joined Dennie at Georgetown Force. He also coached the Austin Sockadillos indoor team, the Austin Lone Stars and the Austin Aztex U23 team.

“He influenced a lot of what we see now as the norm,” said Brian Monaghan, a former Capitals coach who’s now the DA director at Lonestar. “Trips to Europe, youth teams going abroad, college showcases all around the country. He really was one of the pioneers of a lot of things in the youth game that are now developed as the norm.”

Suhnholz also had an impact on the national level. In 2001, he was the head coach of the U.S. under-20 national team, a group that included Landon Donovan and DaMarcus Beasley before they exploded on the scene at the 2002 World Cup.

Locally, he laid the foundation for players like Ben Crawley (D.C. United) and current Austin Bold midfielder Sonny Guadarrama, both youth national team players who went on to pro careers.

“He definitely helped me get exposed to things that I never would have gotten exposed to if it wasn’t for him putting his name on the line for me,” Guadarrama said. “I’m very grateful to him for that. It’s just hard to find somebody who knows so much about the game, ends up retiring and stays in the same city their whole life giving back to youth soccer.

“He’s impacted the players who played for him and those who didn’t, because he helped grow the competition here in Austin. If you grew up playing soccer, you knew who Wolfgang was.”

Dennie said a celebration of life is in the works for Suhnholz that will likely take place in February. There is a GoFundMe account set up to assist his family with medical and other expenses associated with his recent illness and death.

Home for the holidays: Fans in Austin have Sonny Guadarrama to thank for what has become a fun annual tradition. On Dec. 23, some of the best players the city has produced convened at SoccerZone South Austin.

When Sonny says there’s a game, people show up.

The roster included two current MLS players, Khiry Shelton (Sporting Kansas City) and Kekuta Manneh (FC Cincinnati), Guadarrama, Tyrpak and Beto Avila from Austin Bold FC and Fernando Mercado (Venados FC). Bold goalkeeper Diego Restrepo also played for the Austin pros against La Academia, with teammate Clayton Adams suiting up for the opposition.

La Academia showcased the depth of talent in Austin by beating the pros 10-9 on a golden goal, with some drama near the end after Guadarrama tied the match 9-9 with a penalty kick in the final minute. The place was packed, creating a fun atmosphere.

“This is my favorite event,” Guadarrama said. “For all the players who are from Austin, I think they should be recognized. Not a lot of people know there are other soccer players from Austin. For the (La Academia) players that are trying to play pro, I think it’s good for them to be on the field and hang out with us. The goal is that more players from Austin will be pro soccer players.”

Staying Bold: Guadarrama, Tyrpak and Restrepo’s appearances coincided with the news that they’ll all be returning for the Bold next season, along with defenders Sean McFarlane and Amobi Okugo.

That means the majority of the core lineup will be back. So far, 11 players are confirmed for 2020.

“How long did it take us to get the cohesiveness?,” Guadarrama said. “Maybe like two months. I think people are going to come in a lot more prepared. Now we know each other, so it’s basically just going to flow from how we ended. I’m looking forward to it.”

It also means that fans will get at least another season of locals Guadarrama, Tyrpak and Avila playing at home.

“I just think last year made me hungry again to work hard and go back to my roots of how I became a professional soccer player, which was pretty much all through hard work,” said Guadarrama, who scored four goals and had three assists in all competitions in 2019.

Romero on trial: Keep young fingers crossed for another Austin pro to join the ranks this month. I spoke to Michael Romero, a 19-year-old center back who played for La Academia on Dec. 23. He told me he has tryouts lined up with two USL Championship teams in January: OKC Energy FC and Loudon United, the USL affiliate of D.C. United.
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