Sports

The Verde Report: The End of the Beginning for Austin FC

Major League Soccer’s 27th franchise officially debuts – finally! – on Saturday against Los Angeles Football Club


Austin FC players salute fans gathered outside the St. David's Performance Center for the club's final La Copita preseason match vs. San Antonio FC on Saturday, April 10 (Courtesy of Austin FC)

Milestones are nice. They make long journeys memorable. They make long waits bearable. Austin FC has been a milestone factory for 42 months, since the concept of Major League Soccer in Austin became a serious thing. Team name and logo reveal. Construction of a stadium. Head coach hire. First player signings. All of those milestones will soon fade into the body of a Wikipedia page as the long Verde road reaches its final destination: match day one.

Austin FC will perform its best Texas dip curtsy Saturday in Los Angeles, debuting as the 27th MLS franchise. "El Tree" takes on Los Angeles Football Club, one of the league's best, on FOX, the biggest television stage the league can offer. The ingredients for a five-star first impression are laid out on the counter. It's up to head coach Josh Wolff and his squad of 24 players to get the recipe right.

"We're hoping to put a team out there that quenches the thirst that [Austin fans] have had," Wolff said this week. "I can certainly empathize with everyone having to wait to get to this moment."

Wolff was hired July 2019 after seven seasons as an MLS assistant coach and one year as a U.S. men's national team assistant. He understands patience. He'll coach his first competitive match as a head coach at any level when Austin kicks off against LAFC. "Of course I feel like I'm ready," Wolff assured an inquiring press member Tuesday. Still, he expects to grow up fast as a coach as his team grows up throughout the inaugural season.

Austin FC staff and players might be the only ones wearing Verde inside Banc of California Stadium for the opening game. MLS Commissioner Don Garber, who has said repeatedly that he wants Austin FC on the "front porch" of the league's present and future, reemphasized that this week and said the matchup with LAFC was chosen because it's "a good matchup for TV." Unfortunately, good for TV, in this case, is bad for Austin die-hards hoping to see their team take its first kicks in person. COVID-19 restrictions are highest in Los Angeles County, and attendance will be limited to LAFC season ticket holders. At time of writing, there are no tickets available on the primary or secondary markets for road fans. Matthew McConaughey's Hollywood connections might get the Minister of Culture in, but that could be it.

And yet, ATXFC will not be completely alone in the City of Angels. Los Verdes, one of the club's supporters' groups, is sending an invading strike team of 20-25 to make Austin's presence felt. "We're planning to be outside the stadium to make some noise and welcome the team when they arrive," supporter Chris Hague told the Chronicle. Plan A, Hague says, is to somehow, some way, score a ticket. Plan B involves hunting for a restaurant that's open for business.

Back home, watch parties are booked all across Central Texas. The club is hosting an official bash on the Long Center lawn with attendance capped at 1,000, while Austin Anthem, another supporters' group, just passed the 1K RSVP mark for their soccer celebration at Circle Brewing Company. Thousands of other supporters will keep it in the family and enjoy the game from their living rooms.

Yes, there will eventually be a score. Worry about that next week. This weekend, Austin finally arrives as a major league town. The beautiful game is here, and it is Verde. Dale, Austin, indeed.


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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Austin FC, The Verde Report, Josh Wolff, Los Verdes, Austin Anthem, LAFC

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