The Verde Report: Unable to Gather, Austin FC Players Find Friendship in Fans
How the Verde squad is settling into Austin
When Austin FC moved into its state-of-the-art St. David's Performance Center in the spring, it sounded straight out of a Stefon SNL sketch. This place has everything. Grass fields. Turf fields. Altitude chambers. Exercise equipment. If it can help build a winning soccer team, it's there.
For head coach Josh Wolff, there's only one problem: They can't leave it.
As a group, that is. Aside from match-related travel, of which there has been plenty (Austin FC closes out an eight-game road trip this Saturday in Kansas City), the club is still largely unable to hold team activities off the training ground – activities that Wolff believes are vital to cultivating a united squad.
"Because of COVID it minimizes our ability to do much with the guys outside the training center. We've been able to do a little bit, but for me that's a big part of culture and environment," Wolff said. "Having us on the field is one thing, but being able to do things in restaurants and do things with these players' families and their kids to bring them together, it's a huge part of it."
Wolff still feels the team generally gets along well. He says the training center is equipped with "some nice things" (read: video games) that keep players around and socializing after practice. "But we need to do more activities away from the game, and that's really important for the psyche, but also for the emotions of the players," Wolff said. "This is a family. You live and die as a family. When we do that and we have that real commitment and bond, it's beautiful."
In lieu of hanging out with teammates, some Austin FC players have made efforts to form personal relationships in the Austin community. Goalkeeper Brad Stuver's online interactions with Austinites have helped raise thousands for the Laundry Project, a philanthropy he and his wife, Ashley, advocate for that provides free laundromat days to lower-income families.
Diego Fagundez, meanwhile, is just down for whatever. Shortly after arriving in Austin in the spring, the midfielder accepted an invitation to meet up with a group of fans for a game of footgolf (which he won) and has been accessible to fans ever since.
"I think from the first day I showed up here, I felt welcomed," Fagundez said. "I don't feel like they're just fans to me. To me they're more friends. We talk every day, we hang out, they come to my house, we have cookouts, their kids come over, they play with my kids ... I just want to be part of the community. I want to be known as the kid that likes going out with people."
Austin FC's first-ever goal-scorer recently crashed a chant rehearsal for supporters' groups at Q2 Stadium because his mother, who lives in Austin, wanted to see the fans sing. He has a date on the books for the coming weeks to play darts, a game he's barely played, with a fan. "That's who I am. I'm the person that, you invite me somewhere, and if I think it's fun, I'm gonna go and do it," Fagundez said. "What I care about is making people happy, and that's who I am as a kid. I've always done this."
Should he start the June 19 home opener – and his exploits on the field this year suggest he should – Fagundez will likely draw one of the loudest cheers during player introductions. It will reflect a bond that Austin FC players are quickly developing with their supporters, even if the bonding within the team is still a work in progress.
Austin FC next faces Sporting Kansas City at Children’s Mercy Park Saturday, June 12, 2pm, available to watch in English on the CW Austin, austinfc.com, and the Austin FC app, and in Spanish on the Univision 62 Austin app and univisionaustin.com.