By Jason Davis – WASHINGTON, DC (Jun 16, 2021) US Soccer Players – Not all that long ago, as human history goes, Texas was a frontier for European settlers making their way across the vast North American continent. Make no mistake, people lived in the area, but Texas lacked any permanent settlements that we would identify as a city. As time unspooled and explorers drifted from east to west, Texas, like so many other parts of the New World, became home to new people anxious to carve out a life in the wilds at the edge of the known world. Back then, life was cheap and work was hard, and just living to see a new year was an achievement.
It was in that environment that Austin was founded. Settled in 1835 and incorporated four years later, the central Texas town eventually grew into a buzzing, metropolitan city. Even beyond its role as the capital of the third-largest state in the Union, Austin has a cultural weight well beyond its place in the hierarchy of famous American cities.
The music. The food. The Matthew McConaughey.
Despite the city’s growth and the influence it has on American culture, Austin missed out on the explosion of professional sports in the 20th century. While Dallas, Houston, and even San Antonio became home to franchises in various major American pro sports leagues, Austin was forced to make do with following the exploits of collegiate athletes from the University of Texas.
To be fair, Austinites were fine with that state of affairs. UT’s presence in town wasn’t a problem, except insofar as it might have dissuaded major American sports leagues from placing teams in Austin.
On Saturday, the city of Austin enters a new era in its sports history. Austin FC will open a glittering new 20,500-seat venue in the northern reaches of the Texas capital.
With the event nearly upon us, it’s worth reviewing how we got here. An MLS franchise in Austin wasn’t on anyone’s radar, at least not publicly, as recently as three-and-a-half years ago. With two clubs already based in Texas and nearby San Antonio angling for an expansion team of its own, the chance that Austin would jump to the front of the MLS line seemed unlikely.
That was before the Columbus relocation controversy. Made public by a Grant Wahl report in October, 2017, MLS fans learned that Columbus Crew investor/operator Anthony Precourt had a clause in his agreement with Major League Soccer. It would allow him to explore relocating his club to Austin.
MLS hadn’t relocated a club since San Jose moved to Houston and that carried the proviso that San Jose’s identity stayed with that city. An eventual expansion team became the new Earthquakes. The league is pro expansion, not pro relocation and that’s eventually what played out with the Austin option. A look at the table shows that the Crew remain in Columbus under a different investor/operator and about to open a new stadium of their own.
In exchange, Precourt got Austin as an expansion team. The maneuverings aside, getting a stadium built in Austin turned into a major issue. To say that process was difficult would be an understatement.
Two different plans to build a soccer stadium on city parkland were shot down by city council members concerned about using city land for a pro stadium. Intense lobbying by Precourt Sports Ventures and some brinksmanship with a “make or break” characterization of a downtown stadium came up short of securing the necessary support for the plan. Eventually, the stadium site moved from downtown to McKalla Place. A deal quickly came together, with city council approval in August of 2018.
At the moment, the MLS fate of the two cities appeared sealed. Austin was at its beginning, Columbus at its end. Only a week after the city council vote, Precourt’s group announced a name (Austin FC), colors (green and black), and a motto (“Grow the Legend”).
Behind the scenes, MLS was at work. The league found a buyer for the franchise rights to the Crew while agreeing to let Precourt launch an expansion club in Austin. While Columbus fans would have preferred to avoid the pain of the saga, the result benefited soccer fans in both cities and even prompted a successful push to build a downtown stadium for the Crew. The recently named Lower.com Stadium opens on July 3.
Austin’s new stadium debuts on Wednesday night with the US Women hosting Nigeria. The building is beautiful, by all accounts. Despite the pandemic, Austin FC managed to complete it early in the club’s first campaign, limiting the length of the season-starting road trip and without playing in a temporary venue.
Q2 Stadium, as it’s called for sponsorship reason, fits right in with the stellar class of small soccer stadiums built around the country for MLS teams. It should be a perfect home to build the culture in Austin, a place that is finally getting a topflight sports franchise.
The pandemic broke just in time for Austin to get the privilege of welcoming a full house to their shiny new home. The opening of Q2 Stadium is the true beginning of life in MLS for Austin FC. If there’s a legend to grow, it will happen at Q2.
Jason Davis is the founder of MatchFitUSA.com and the host of The United States of Soccer on SiriusXM. Contact him: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter.
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Logo courtesy of Austin FC