The Verde Report: Austin FC, Fans Split on What to Do With Cecilio Domínguez

MLS investigation clears star player of misconduct, but questions linger

The Verde Report: Austin FC, Fans Split on What to Do With Cecilio Domínguez

What does it mean to support a sports team? That question seems to be at the heart of the rift forming between Austin FC and its two largest supporters' groups – Austin Anthem and Los Verdes – over the future of Paraguayan Designated Player Cecilio Domínguez.

Last week, Domínguez was officially reinstated by MLS following a suspension and a league investigation into "possible off-field misconduct," which centered on the events of April 8. That afternoon, according to reporting by ESPN's Jeff Carlisle, officers were called to the home of Domínguez's ex-partner "in reference to a possible domestic violence victim." At the scene, the alleged victim informed officers that "there was some possible mental and emotional abuse, but nothing physical" between her and Domínguez. No criminal investigation was opened by police, and an external firm hired by MLS found no evidence of physical abuse, which would put him in violation of the league's collectively bargained safety and well-being policy.

Domínguez is fully cleared to return to action, and Austin FC has laid out his road map. Following the club's 1-0 defeat by the LA Galaxy Sunday night, head coach Josh Wolff said, "He'll join us next week in training and I think, for us, my focus is on that." Wolff added that Domínguez will have to "get up to speed" after missing five games due to suspension and that the forward is "a ways away" from being ready for in-game action. Finally, Wolff said he had no knowledge of a 2016 domestic violence case in Paraguay involving Domínguez and the same woman when Austin FC signed Domínguez in 2020 (it's unclear how that case was resolved).

While Austin FC seems content to welcome Domínguez back into the fold, the club's most ardent fans have made it clear they feel differently. Less than 24 hours following Domínguez's reinstatement, both Austin Anthem and Los Verdes supporters' groups released statements saying they do not support Domínguez continuing to play for the club. Then, in the 10th minute of Sunday night's match, supporter band La Murga de Austin, which typically plays at full voice for the entire 90 minutes, went silent for 10 minutes in support of victims of domestic abuse. Domínguez wears No. 10 for Austin FC. The message was and is clear: The most influential members of the ATXFC fan base believe there is no place in the club for anyone with an association to domestic abuse, with or without criminal charges.

From the earliest days of Austin FC, even before it had a name or a stadium, it's been obvious that the club represents more to its supporters than just a soccer team. In many ways, it's become a reflection of their identity and their values. For the most part, the club has leaned into that relationship (sports teams love nothing more than to form emotional connections between their brand and their consumer base). Austin FC has even set a precedent here, of sorts: In January it parted ways with a former PA announcer following a tweet many supporters deemed insensitive toward unhoused people and contrary to the culture that, in their opinion, the club stood for.

Domínguez's alleged behavior off the pitch is obviously more concerning than an errant tweet, and the Paraguayan also occupies a far more elevated role in the club as one of three highly valuable Designated Players. As a player under contract – and not deemed in violation of that contract by the league – releasing Domínguez is likely not an option available to Austin FC. What the club could do is simply bench Domínguez in the coming weeks and sell him off to another club as soon as the summer transfer window opens in early July. But it doesn't sound as if that's the route Austin FC wants to take. After all, Wolff and company are pushing hard for a first-ever trip to the MLS Cup Playoffs, and despite the recent success Austin FC has had in Domínguez's absence, it's still a better team with him on the active roster.

At some point, it would seem, Domínguez will again wear No. 10 for the Verde and Black on the Q2 Stadium pitch as 20,000 fans watch from the stands, and each of those 20,000 might have a slightly different feeling toward the situation when that happens. Which brings back the question of what it means to support a team. Do you love it unconditionally, warts and all, even if its values don't perfectly align with your own? Or do you demand, at the potential expense of winning, that it go above and beyond the rules it's beholden to, in order to match up to those values? And when those demands then go unheeded, what happens then? Many members of the Austin FC community may be about to find out for themselves in the coming weeks.

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