A passion, a feeling, a love is born in Austin. It’s an old heartbreak that has finally come to fruition in a passion that seems eternal. It will be the third foray into that world of passion that is soccer after the disappearance of the Austin Aztex and the creation of Austin Bold, who still continues to compete in USL Championship. Smiles, tears, songs and screams await us. A new adventure begins at Q2 Stadium. Professional sports are now coming to Austin and we will analyze the social, economic and sports repercussions that this new path, that opens in the city, will entail. Go, Verdes!
Austin’s Long Road to MLS
After these attempts, Austin embarks on the third most popular sport in America. Professional soccer comes to Austin to alleviate the absence of a professional team in the major leagues which happens to be the 10th largest city in the United States and the fastest-growing city of the country each year. However, the road to Austin FC has been long and controversial.
In October 2017, began what, in the words of MLS Commissioner Don Garber, the most complicated project in the history of the league. That’s when Precourt Sports Ventures announced that they planned to move the team they owned from Columbus, Ohio, to Austin. It was an ambitious move. Their market research had spotted a virgin market in Austin and they were willing to exploit it. They were right.
Austin was at that time a key point in a new demographic and economic revolution. The fastest growing city of the decade was hosting investments and businesses from the world’s leading tech companies. And that was just a prelude. In addition, it has a 34% Latino population, which is the community that mostly supports this sport, and did not have the competition of a root with any professional team of any sport.
Save the Crew
It seemed like the perfect place to unleash the perfect storm, but the Crew owners didn’t expect problems that made it veer from its first intention: that of moving a franchise from one city to another to creating an expansion team. The great problem that Precourt didn’t expect was Ohio’s deep roots with its Columbus Crew, one of the league’s founding teams. Despite being the owner of the Cleveland Browns, they did not understand that the love for soccer is forever. However, the Haslem brothers did not take long to sign at the end of 2018 a financing agreement with the Austin city council which included the construction of a fabulous stadium, which today brightens up the electrifying Domain neighborhood.
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But Ohio, despite having a presence in the major leagues of other sports, did not want to give its arm to twist. Legally, the team was protected by the fact of having invested public money. Socially, the team moving faced a committed supporting group who launched the hashtag #SavetheCrew on social media. Both problems exploited when the General Attorney Mike Dewine, sued the club for failing to submit the request for the change of location within the six-month period stipulated by a 1996 state law.
An Expansion Team
All of this brought the project to a standstill and led Precourt to sell the Crew to a local proprietary group, not before without getting the league concession to create an expansion team in Austin. It served to legitimize the team and remove the stolen franchise tag that hung over Austin FC.
Once the foundations of the new franchise were laid, there was still work pending with the city council and the community. Finally, on January 1, 2019, the club was officially born, and the franchise’s premiere was set for this 2021-22 season. Despite all these difficulties to which the pandemic has been added, Austin will debut this Saturday, April 17 against Los Angeles FC, in California. A milestone for the city that has quickly fallen in love with its team. The Haslem brothers’ group was renamed Twin Oaks Ventures to accommodate local entrepreneurs and investors.
Actor and fellow Texan Matthew McConaughey has become involved in such a way that he is already a co-owner of the team. The list of investors of the club includes Eduardo Bargain, executive of Dell, and entrepreneur Bryan Sheffield. In addition, they have managed to attract important sponsorships from local companies such as Yeti, which puts its logo on the shirts, and Q2, which gives the stadium its name.
In 2018, the design of the shield and the colors of the team were revealed. The green represents dynamism and the creativity of the city. Its symbol is the Treaty Oak, a 500-year-old tree located in Central Austin, where founder Steve Austin is believed to have signed the first treaty with the Tonkawa’s tribe. The four roots that emerge from it symbolize the four cardinal points of the city.
An Attractive Team
Austin’s first professional team in history brings together players with experience in MLS and in European leagues with youth and cheekiness. This combination makes them a very interesting team. We will see how they develop in their first MLS adventure. It is undoubtedly a long-term project that must grow. Their coach is Josh Wolff, a rookie on the bench. Despite his little experience as a head coach, he has the complete confidence of the President and especially of the sporting director, Claudio Reyna, mythical former player legend of Team USA and former star of German Borussia Dortmund, where his talented son currently stands out.
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Wolff is not a stranger in the world of soccer USA. As a player, he was part of the best Chicago Fire, made the leap to Europe playing with German Munich 1860, and ended his career in Kansas City and DC United being 52 times international with the Team USA winning two Gold Cups. As a coach, he has been an assistant to DC and the national team.
His style is pleasing to the beholder. He uses Barça’s iconic 4-3-3 from Cruyff and Guardiola and is a coach who wants to win games from possession of the ball. He will feature players like the team’s captain, the Finn stopper Alex Ring. At the age of 29, he already knows what it is to play in his country, with Helsinki HFK, in Germany with Borussia Monchengladbach or Kaiserlautern, and in the MLS, where he had an important role in the NYCFC as captain since 2019. The stars of the team will be the midfielder Tomás Pochettino, former Boca Juniors, Paraguayan left winger Cecilio Domínguez, former Independiente and former América and former Ajax forward, Danny Hoesen.
Experienced players as defender Cascante, the talent of Fagundez and the interesting right-back Nick Lime are other players to pay attention to.
Soccer to Fall in Love
The roster has different players drawn from the expansion draft, where different MLS teams have contributed five players to the roster and from this past year’s Superdraft. The market value of the squad stands at 23.9 million euros, about 30 million dollars, according to Transfermarket, the website specialized in assessing the cost of players. This assessment places him in the middle class of the league, still far from the most luxurious teams: Los Angeles, Beckham’s Inter Miami or Atlanta United.
The coach of the Texan team seems to have defined his stand-up type that you can see on the graph. A starting team that will debut against Los Angeles in a special match not only for the city but also for Wolff, who faces Bob Bradley, who was his coach in Chicago and from whom he has always felt influenced.
The Future is Green
The team’s goals this year are to do a good job and try to sneak into the Western Conference playoffs. For which, they should be among the top seven in the regular league. A difficult but not impossible challenge. Also, it would be a great success to go far in the Lamar Hunt’s Cup. But every project must have a maturing time. Even so, the Austin president is optimistic and seeks the successful reflection of similar cases that have occurred in the incorporation of new franchises to the league. This is the case of Los Angeles and Atlanta.
Anthony Precourt has studied that model for success, although experts compare the Austin breakthrough to the Nashville experience. The club president aspires to more. He believes that Nashville cannot be compared to the Texas franchise, since it is a less populated city, lacking the demographic and economic expansion of Austin and deeply rooted in his other teams in the NFL, NHL, and especially his baseball team. Time will dictate sentence.
Creating Local Talent
The third Texas franchise in the league, after Dallas and Houston, is the future. His splendid academy shows it. The investment made in the training facility, St David’s Performance Center, has been of 45 million dollars and houses four soccer fields, one with capacity to accommodate 1000 spectators, and different facilities spread over more than 30,000 square feet that have nothing to envy to European training camps. Austin City Council and several private investors made it possible.
The future rocks in them. The under-13,14,15 teams train and play there. A great scouting work has been done in recent years and all Central Texas boys of the required age are invited to tryouts, from which talent will be drawn from the future. A work, that together with the options of the franchise in the SuperDraft, will guarantee a better tomorrow. The identification of the club, with the city, is essential in every soccer team. In the academy, talented young players such as Henry Moreno, Arthur Santos or Alexander Salazar already stand out.
All of them, will be supervised by Claudio Reyna, who will have to put into practice everything he learned at Dortmund, in a club that works especially well with young people in Europe, as shown by its current squad with players like Reyna’s own son, Haaland, Jadon Sancho and Bellingham.
A well-organized structure that will feature the warmth and passion of the Austin fans. The city’s love with soccer began with the announcement of the creation of the team. Austin is crazy about the Greens. It´s not only passion, but they are also figures. During the first 24 hours of regular season ticket sales, 30,000 were sold. This was the highest number in league history. The same thing happened when Adidas put the club’s green and black jersey up for sale, breaking records in its first 24 hours. Also contributing to this was the La Verde Van, a van that has traveled Austin for months selling merchandise and fostering a love of soccer.
Austin is a cauldron waiting to be lit by its soccer players. They will not walk alone. The supporters have not been slow to organize themselves into different support groups. The most numerous is the pioneer, Austin Anthem. Founded in 2018, it has grown exponentially and is set to make a splash in Q2. From among its members came the creators of Los Verdes, an enthusiastic group of supporters. In recent months they have organized different events to show their unconditional support for the team through parties and meetings organized by their Slack groups, where they have become strong.
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For its part, the Burnt Orange Brigade is the youngest faction of the Austin fan base made up mostly of UT students. Other numerous groups are the Oak Army of New Braunfels and especially La Murga, who will play music in the stadium. This group of Bass & Drum creates versions of the Beatles or Selena in Spanish and English to be performed in a choir by the stadium strands. Its creative members are part of the Austin music scene and the high school marching band circuit. A vitamin of good vibes that has traveled throughout Austin, showing the songs that will be part of the atmosphere of the new stadium.
Everything is ready for the ball to roll at Q2. An adventure full of emotion, passion and dreams to fulfill begins. Austin is already a part of MLS and the city is eager to scream non-stop goals to help celebrate titles. Prepare your shirt and expect the unpredictable. It is the magic of soccer. Go Austin!
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Photo of the Cover: Los Verdes