Austin FC: A look at the journey starting Austin's first MLS team
The highly-anticipated kickoff to Austin's first-ever major professional league sports team has been a long time coming. In fact, it's been a multi-year process.
In April, Austin FC will take the pitch for the very first time in Major League Soccer (MLS) action.
The highly-anticipated kickoff to Austin's first-ever major professional league sports team has been a long time coming. From inception to the first kick, it's been a multi-year process – one with many bumps along the way. But the city has shown it is ready to embrace this team.
Let's take a look at the journey:
Bringing an MLS team to Austin:
Conversations about Austin getting an MLS franchise started in 2017 when rumors started circulating.
In 2018, then-owner of the Columbus Crew, Anthony Precourt, showed interest in moving his team to the Lone Star State. Precourt had been pushing for months prior to an Austin City Council vote in August of 2018 to relocate the Crew.
At that time, Austin was the largest city in the country without a major professional sports franchise.
Pushback from protesters
The Austin City Council heard from the public for months leading up to its decision to move forward with building a stadium for an MLS team and where it would be. McKalla Place and Circuit of the Americas were both options for where the soccer team could play.
Protesters voiced concerns throughout the process of potentially selecting McKalla Place as the site for Austin FC's stadium. They said they’d like to see the land use for something else that could benefit the City, such as affordable housing.
On Aug. 15, 2018, the Austin City Council voted 7-4 to bring an MLS stadium to McKalla Place in North Austin.
A week after the initial city council vote, Austin's soccer team got its name and logo: Austin FC. The club's identity was born. Support group MLS2ATX released the team's name and logo.
Ever since the City's decision, there were a few commitments made when the stadium deal was finalized, including a commitment to affordable housing.
Austin FC President Andy Loughnane explained that the commitment is to evaluate the opportunity for building somewhere between 135 and 140 affordable housing units.
"So when we created our partnership with the City of Austin, one of the commitments that we made was to help build out affordable housing. And on this 24-acre tract, there is an acre or so that can be evaluated for affordable housing units. And so our commitment, as is spelled out in the lease, is to over time continue to evaluate the opportunity to build out about 135, 140 affordable housing units. And we'll go through the analysis of how that can work out here on the stadium site," Loughnane said. "But we do have some time to do that and we will continue to do that with the affordable housing community. But that is that is part of an overall commitment to affordable housing."
Notably, in 2019, Austin FC's philanthropic branch, the 4ATX Foundation, donated $500,000 to foundation communities to support affordable housing projects in Austin.
A logo representing Austin
MLS2ATX said the badge incorporates elements that represent city pride, united roots, 11 layers, intertwined oaks and the FC tradition. The four "roots" in the tree on the team badge represent the different regions of Austin – north, south, east and west – "coming together to create a powerful foundation for our club."
Despite the approval from Austin's city council, there was growing opposition in Ohio to move the Columbus Crew to Austin. Precourt had been fighting all year long against a lawsuit filed in March 2018 by the Ohio Attorney General's Office and the City of Columbus, saying Precourt Sports Ventures didn't follow Ohio law with proper communication before talks of uprooting the team, then anchoring its roots in Texas' capital city.
In October 2018, the MLS released a statement announcing that the family of Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam and a Columbus investor group led by Pete Edwards Jr. were moving toward buying the Columbus team. Amid the news, Precourt still reassured the Austin FC would still happen.
"Regardless of the possibility of any bona fide investor group in Columbus closing on a transaction to assume operating rights to Columbus Crew SC, Austin FC will be playing MLS matches in the Texas state capital in the near future," Precourt said in a statement. "The club will likely begin playing at a date no later than the spring 2021 opening of the new, privately-financed stadium and soccer park at McKalla Place."
The MLS backed Precourt, saying it was still committed to launching Austin FC as an MLS team in Texas.
"Major League Soccer is excited to move forward in Austin with Precourt Sports Ventures [PSV] and their vision for Austin FC. Regardless of any scenario in Columbus, there is a clear path forward for PSV to operate Austin FC as a Major League Soccer club," the league said in a statement. "The strong support from Austin’s corporate community, government officials and passionate soccer fans is impressive. Austin is a flourishing, dynamic city that presents a great opportunity for MLS, and we look forward to finalizing plans to become the first major league team in the capital of Texas. While timing for Austin FC is still to be finalized, we are confident that the team will begin play no later than 2021 at the new, privately financed stadium and soccer park at McKalla Place. We applaud the Austin community, city leaders and Precourt Sports Ventures for their commitment to making this happen.”
The official MLS announcement of Austin FC joining the league came in January 2019.
Building a stadium, identity and brand:
Initial renderings for the stadium were released in June 2019, and Austin FC broke ground on its stadium at McKalla Place in September 2019.
While the club was building its new home, they also had to create the identity of the team.
First and foremost: the club announced Josh Wolff as the team's head coach. He took the role after finishing up as an assistant coach for the U.S. Men's National Team. Claudio Reyna was later named Austin FC's new sports director in November 2019. Reyna had been the sports director for New York City FC since 2013.
With the club's leadership selected, another part of establishing the club's identity was through its choice of sponsors and partners. Austin FC made sure its brand would be representative of the City that welcomed it in.
Keeping Austin FC 'local'
From the very beginning, Austin FC President Andy Loughnane honed in on the team representing Austinites and the City in every way imaginable. In terms of sponsors, Loughnane said the club would focus on partnering with local brands.
This was made apparent early on with the team's ties to beloved Austinite Matthew McConaughey, who was named a part-owner of the team. In addition to McConaughey, the co-owners included Eduardo Margain, Bryan Sheffield and Marius Haas.
The first of many sponsors came with a big splash: Austin-based YETI was named the team's official jersey sponsor in February 2020. At the time of the announcement, the club said it would release two jerseys prior to the inaugural season. Those jersey reveals came in November 2020 and January 2021.
The team's training facility was named after St. David's Healthcare, dubbed the "St. David's Performance Center." In November 2020, H-E-B was named as a partner for an on-site fan zone outside of the stadium called "H-E-B Plaza." In April 2021, Austin FC announced its mascot would be dogs eligible for adoption through Austin Pets Alive!.
At Austin FC matches, there will be a certain buzz in the air thanks in part to supporter groups like Los Verdes and La Murga de Austin, a subsection of supporters whose focus is music. KVUE spoke with Los Verdes in July 2020 and again with La Murga de Austin just months prior to April's opening match.
“Really, our goal is to be the voice, the passion, the drumbeat, the music of the supporters' section of McKalla [Place],” Jeremiah Bentley, a member of the Los Verdes leadership team, told KVUE's Jake Garcia.
“People come to expect at soccer games more and more, especially in MLS, for it to be a show and a spectacle,” said Mateo Clarke, a member of both Los Verdes and La Murga.
“We think about this as soccer church and us as the choir helping lead that experience,” Clarke said.
The groups' entire effort is so that the buzz remains contagious.
“It’s born out of the belief that we can have an impact on the team doing well,” Clarke said.
PHOTOS: A look inside Austin FC's Q2 Stadium
Meet the team
Austin FC's first-ever signing came in the form of Paraguayan forward Rodney Redes. Redes was signed in July 2020, followed by another Paraguayan forward, 26-year-old Cecilio Domínguez.
Eyes then turned to the 2020 MLS Expansion Draft, where Austin FC was the only team eligible to make selections. Wolff told the media he was looking for players who are "high-scoring" and "ruthless."
Austin FC signed Ben Sweat, Nick Lima, Julio Cascante, Ulises Segura and Jon Gallagher leading up to the expansion draft. In the expansion draft, the club picked Danny Hoesen, Jared Stroud, Brady Scott, Joe Corona and Kamal Miller.
Austin FC traded Miller to the Montreal Impact in exchange for $225,000 of General Allocation Monday (GAM) and a First Round Draft Pick (11th) in the 2021 MLS SuperDraft. Corona never signed with Austin FC and signed with the Houston Dynamo instead. Corona was out of contract and eligible for the re-entry draft, in which he was selected by the Houston Dynamo. Corona could have opted out of the reentry draft to negotiate with Austin, but the sides were too far apart on salary, Wolff told the Austin American-Statesman. As a result, Houston ended up with the player’s rights, and the pick Austin used on Corona didn’t land a return.
A few weeks prior to the 2021 MLS SuperDraft, Austin FC signed former Sporting KC captain and U.S. Men’s National Team defender Matt Besler.
In the 2021 MLS SuperDraft, Austin FC had the No. 1 overall pick, the No. 11 overall pick, No. 21 overall pick and then the first pick in the second and third rounds. With those five picks, Austin FC selected Daniel Pereira, Freddy Kleemann, Aedan Stanley, Daniel Steedman and Noah Lawerence, respectively.
Here is a look at the full roster for Austin FC's first season:
- Brady Scott – 21 years old, 6-feet-2-inches
- Brad Stuver – 29 years old, 6-feet-3-inches, 183 pounds
- Andrew Tarbell – 27 years old, 6-feet-3-inches, 195 pounds
- No. 3: Jhohan Romaña – 22 years old, 6-feet-1-inch, 224 pounds
- No. 5: Matt Besler – 34 years old, 6-feet, 180 pounds
- No. 16 Hector Jimenez – 32 years old, 5-feet-9-inches, 138 pounds
- No. 18 Julio Cascante – 27 years old, 6-feet-2-inches, 185 pounds
- No. 19 Freddy Kleemann – 22 years old, 6-feet-4-inches
- No. 21 Zan Kolmanic – 21 years old, 5-feet-10-inches, 152 pounds
- No. 22 Ben Sweat – 29 years old, 6-feet-2-inches, 173 pounds
- No. 24 Nick Lima – 26 years old, 5-feet-8-inches, 173 pounds
- No. 6: Sebastian Berhalter – 19 years old, 5-feet-9-inches, 155 pounds
- No. 7: Tomas Pochettino – 25 years old, 5-feet-10-inches, 157 pounds
- No. 8 Alex Ring – 29 years old, 5-feet-9-inches, 161 pounds
- No. 12 Ulises Segura – 27 years old, 6-feet, 187 pounds
- No. 14 Diego Fagundez – 26 years old, 5-feet-8-inches, 159 pounds
- No. 15 Daniel Pereira – 20 years old, 5-feet-9-inches, 150 pounds
- No. 20 Jared Stroud – 24 years old, 5-feet-10-inches, 155 pounds
- No. 9 Danny Hoesen – 30 years old, 6-feet-1-inch, 180 pounds
- No. 10 Cecilio Dominguez – 26 years old, 5-feet-10-inches, 177 pounds
- No. 11 Rodney Redes – 21 years old, 5-feet-8-inches, 159 pounds
- No. 13 Aaron Schnoenfeld – 30 years old, 6-feet-4-inches
- No. 17 Jon Gallagher – 25 years old, 5-feet-9-inches, 155 pounds
- No. 23 Kekuta Manneh – 26 years old, 5-feet-9-inches, 153 pounds
Building Q2 Stadium
In January 2021, Austin FC unveiled the name of its home.
RELATED: Austin FC unveils 'Q2 Stadium' name
Austin FC President Andy Loughnane announced the name of the stadium would be "Q2 Stadium." The stadium naming rights were given to Q2 Holdings Inc., an Austin-based leading provider of digital transformation solutions for banking and lending.
Loughnane told the media on the day of the stadium announcement that construction was slated to be finished by late March to early April. Loughnane added that due to staff training and completing signage around the stadium, the first home game was not slated until June 19.
Austin FC starts inaugural MLS season with a quick scare:
There was a brief moment of time where the reality of Austin FC's first-ever season was in question, however.
The MLS and MLSPA were in the middle of a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) discussion. The CBA is the contract between the league and the player's association, which details everything from salary policy to free agency policy and more.
RELATED: MLS, MLSPA finalize CBA agreement
The two sides eventually agreed to a seven-year CBA agreement, which delayed the initial season start date from April 3 to April 17. With the CBA agreement, a lockout was avoided. MLS has never had a lockout in its history.
Two main takeaways from the CBA agreement were:
- Two-year extension with expanded free agency: A two-year extension of the existing agreement; the new CBA runs through 2027.
- 100% compensation in 2021: Players will receive 100% of their compensation in 2021, including salaries and bonuses.
Austin FC's first season is #LISTOS
Austin FC will make its MLS debut on the road on Saturday, April 17, against the 2019 MLS Supporters’ Shield winners and 2020 CONCACAF Champions League runner-up LAFC. The match will be broadcast nationally on FOX and FOX Deportes at 4:30 p.m. CST.
The club also announced that it will play its highly-anticipated home opener on Saturday, June 19, against the San Jose Earthquakes in a nationally televised match on UniMás and TUDN, starting at 8 p.m. CST at Q2 Stadium.
Here is the full schedule for Austin FC's inaugural season (home games depicted in bold):
- April 17 - at Los Angeles FC, 4:30 p.m. (Fox)
- April 24 - at Colorado Rapids, 8 p.m.
- May 1 - at Minnesota United FC, 7 p.m.
- May 9 - at Sporting Kansas City, 6:30 p.m. (FS1)
- May 15 - at LA Galaxy, 2:30 p.m. (Univision)
- May 23 - at Nashville SC, 8 p.m. (FS1)
- May 29 - at Seattle Sounders, 3 p.m.
- June 19 - vs. San Jose Earthquakes, 8 p.m. (UniMas)
- June 23 - at Minnesota United FC, 7 p.m.
- June 27 - vs. Columbus Crew SC, 7 p.m. (FS1)
- July 3 - vs. Portland Timbers, 8 p.m.
- July 7 - vs. Los Angeles FC, 8 p.m.
- July 17 - at Sporting Kansas City, 7:30 p.m.
- July 22 - vs. Seattle Sounders, 8:30 p.m. (ESPN)
- July 28 - at Vancouver Whitecaps FC, 9 p.m.
- July 31 - vs. Colorado Rapids, 8 p.m.
- Aug. 4 - vs. Houston Dynamo, 8 p.m.
- Aug. 7 - at FC Dallas, 7:30 p.m.
- Aug. 14 - at Real Salt Lake, 9 p.m.
- Aug. 18 - vs. Vancouver Whitecaps FC, 8 p.m.
- Aug. 21 - vs. Portland Timbers, 8 p.m.
- Aug. 29 - vs. FC Dallas, 8 p.m. (FS1)
- Sept. 11 - at Houston Dynamo, 7:30 p.m.
- Sept. 15 - vs. Los Angeles FC, 8 p.m.
- Sept. 18 - vs. San Jose Earthquakes, 8 p.m.
- Sept. 26 - vs. LA Galaxy TBD (ESPN)
- Sept. 29 - at Colorado Rapids, 8 p.m.
- Oct. 2 - vs. Real Salt Lake, 2:30 p.m. (UniMas)
- Oct. 16 - vs. Minnesota United, 8 p.m.
- Oct. 20 - at San Jose Earthquakes, 9:30 p.m.
- Oct. 24 - vs. Houston Dynamo, 3 p.m. (ESPN)
- Oct. 30 - at FC Dallas, 7 p.m.
- Nov. 3 - at Sporting Kansas City, 8 p.m.
- Nov. 7 - at Portland Timbers, 5 p.m.
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