GOAL! Austin scores professional soccer franchise as home to 27th Major League Soccer team

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Over cheers of “Austin FC! Vamos, El Tree!” Major League Soccer leadership officially announced Jan. 15 that the city of Austin will get its first major league team.

The long-awaited announcement by MLS Commissioner Don Garber cemented the future of professional soccer in Austin. The team—called Austin FC, FC meaning football club—will begin play in spring 2021 at a new $225 million stadium that will be built at 10414 McKalla Place, Austin, near The Domain.

Garber credited the supporters group Austin Anthem for helping to pave the way to bring soccer to Austin.

“Five years ago Austin Anthem came together, and now you’re over 1,000 strong,” he said. “You kept the faith.”

Austin FC supporters say having a pro soccer team in Austin will only help to unify the city because the sport welcomes diversity and is well loved throughout the world.

“It’s a very inclusive sport. I feel like it’s the right sport for the right time in Austin,” supporter and Wells Branch resident Dan Conrad said.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler said many people have tried for decades to bring a major league sport to the city. He thanked Austin FC Chairman and CEO Anthony Precourt for how he brought the team to Austin.

“You came into this city and said we’re going to do it the way that things need to be done in Austin, Texas, and you extended to us the best stadium arena deal that any major league city has gotten anywhere,” Adler said.

Laying the groundwork

Precourt, who is also chairman of Precourt Sports Ventures, which owns Austin FC, said he has long had an affection for Austin.

“It’s an inclusive place—what a place for soccer,” he said. “We like this city, we’re going to fight for this city, we’re going to make you proud. It’s incredible to say that we brought Austin it’s first Major League Soccer team.”

PSV first announced it set its eyes on Austin in late 2017. Initially the plan was to either relocate the Columbus Crew SC—an Ohio-based team—to Austin or create an Austin team. However, Columbus-led resistance gave way to a lawsuit filed by the city of Columbus against PSV and MLS in an effort to keep the Crew in Columbus.

That resistance paid off in late December when Garber announced MLS agreed to sell the Crew to a group led by Jimmy Haslam, the owner of the Cleveland Browns.

Because PSV relocated its rights to Austin, Austin FC won’t technically be an expansion team; however, Austin FC President Andy Loughnane said it will be “expansion like,” meaning the team will get to participate in the expansion draft during winter 2020 ahead of the spring 2021 season.

Austin FC will also recruit internationally by signing free agent players and looking to the Academy of elite youth players in Central Texas for talent, he said.

“We’re going to build a very ambitious club,” Loughnane said. “We want to … one day to be recognized as a club that has international stature and appeal, and part of that is the market itself and part of that is the way the club evolves and the club culture.”

Plenty of work is still to come before Austin FC takes the field. Precourt announced Tuesday that Austin FC will launch some community benefits in 2019, including offering 10 youth soccer clinics each year; underwriting 30 soccer camp registrations for boys and girls; starting 30 scholarships for boys and girls each year; and creating a foundation focused on health and wellness.

Next steps for Austin FC include finding a site and constructing a training facility, setting up its club foundation and starting its Academy.

The city and PSV also finalized an agreement Dec. 19 outlining the conditions for PSV to bring a team to Austin and construct the 400,000-425,000-square-foot stadium. Groundbreaking is planned for fall 2019 on the stadium, which will include 1,000 on-site parking spaces and club seats.

The stadium will also include about 3,200 seats for the supporters group. Austin Anthem members of the group say Austin FC will fill a gap because The University of Texas does not have a men’s soccer team.

“It almost fits well. UT has traditionally been Austin’s professional sports franchise if you will. You can be an Austinite and be a UT fan and that’s culturally acceptable here,” Cedar Park resident Natalie Czimskey said.

Over the next two years, Austin Anthem officials said they will build out the group’s fan base with a goal of making its membership as diverse as the Austin metro.

“A big part of what we’re going to be working on over the next two years, and our unofficial motto, is inclusion,” Driftwood resident Traci Babetski said. “We want to include … every sector, every ethnic group, every race, culture in our group.”

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Amy Denney
Amy has been reporting in community journalism since 2007. She worked in the Chicago suburbs for three years before migrating south and joined Community Impact Newspaper in September 2010. Amy has been editor of the Northwest Austin publication since August 2012 and she is also the transportation beat reporter for the Austin area.
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