Austin’s first professional sports franchise provides an amazing experience

In October of 2017, Major League Soccer and Precourt Sports Ventures announced their initial plans to move The Columbus Crew, a professional soccer club from Ohio, down to Austin at the start of the 2019 season. This move would give Austinites something they’ve long been hoping for: a professional sports franchise. The city had held the crown of the largest populated city in America without a professional sports team for years, and it seemed this unfortunate title was finally being lifted.To the dismay of fans, in October of 2018, a group of Ohio businessmen unveiled their plans to buy the club and keep it in Columbus. However, Precourt Sports Ventures didn’t give up, reaching an agreement with the City of Austin to build a multimillion dollar soccer specific stadium in North Austin. A couple months later, Major League Soccer officially announced Austin FC as a future MLS club, with a start date in 2021.

It was a long 2-year long wait for fans all over, but when it finally came, Austinites showed tremendous support, with tickets flying off the shelves in minutes. Austin FC started off rough, with their inaugural ending with a 2-0 loss to Los Angeles FC, the following week a 3-1 loss to the Colorado Rapids and their home opener at Q2 Stadium ending in a 0-0 draw. However, on July 1 the Verde captured their first win in franchise history, a 3-1 victory over the Portland Timbers. 

News about the experience of the club and the stadium spread across Austin like wildfire, and ticket sales continued to impress. As the season went on, Austin struggled to win games, but the fans were still alive as ever. Finally, about 4 months into the season, my family and I were able to get our hands on some tickets and experience this spectacle ourselves. 

The evening of Sept. 18 came, and it was officially match day. The weather was fittingly pleasant, with surprisingly low temperatures welcoming the fall season to Austin. As we arrived at the stadium, seas of green and black flooded through the gates across Q2 Stadium. The brand new 20,000 seat venue is about as good as it gets for an expansion soccer team. As we wandered through the concourse with about an hour until kickoff, there was a cheerful buzz throughout the fans. Coming into the game, Austin FC was on a four-game losing streak, falling all the way down to 5-15-4, finding themselves at the bottom of the MLS Western Conference standings. However, looking at the crowd, you would’ve assumed it was a playoff game between two top-tier teams. From the moment we stepped into the stadium, the energy and support for the struggling club was incredible, and that only escalated as the game progressed. Fans continued to file through the gates as the time inched closer and closer to kickoff. The national anthem sounded across the stadium, starting lineups were announced over the PA system, and all fans united in the pregame chant called the “Heartbeat of Austin,” then it was time for the spectacle everyone has been waiting for.

The match started off with a bang, as Austin took very little time to get the fans going, with forward Sebastián Driussi tapping in a quick goal for the green and black, sending the stands into a frenzy only six minutes into the contest. As the ball headed to the back of the net, the stadium lit up with green lights as fans erupted with cheers. It only took a few minutes for the San Jose Earthquakes to tie up the match, but supporters stuck with the team through thick and thin throughout the entirety of the game. Forward Jon Gallagher ignited the fire at Q2 stadium just a few minutes after, giving Austin a 2-1 advantage, and sparking the Austin faithful once again. Right before halftime, midfielder Alexander Ring cued the bright green lights once more, and the excitement couldn’t be contained, as cheers erupted from every corner of the stadium. The Verde had been statistically one of the worst offensive teams in the league, and fans couldn’t have been more enthusiastic about the success so far tonight. 

As fans spilled into the concourse during halftime, the energy was even more upbeat than that of the beginning of the match. As someone who has attended countless sporting events throughout my 15 years of life, the pure passion and energy into a statistically bottom-of-the-barrel team was absolutely unmatched to anything I’ve experienced as a fan before. 

Fans headed back to their seats for the second half, and were met with some disappointing news, as the Quakes answered back with a goal to cut the lead down to 1. Disaster ensued for the Verde and their fans, as San Jose scored two goals in a matter of five minutes, taking the lead. Fans were clearly disappointed, but the energy while playing from behind even outdid the enthusiasm when Austin held the lead. Austin continued to battle throughout the second half, and supporters didn’t let up either. Whether it was good play or a frustrating penalty, it wasn’t quiet for a second of the match in Q2 Stadium. As the clock wound down to a close, fans only got louder, chanting and cheering for all 90 minutes of the contest. Austin tried and tried again in the matches final minutes, but were eventually unable to capitalize on many opportunities, and took a heartbreaking 4-3 loss. 

Some fans returned home frustrated, but the consensus throughout my party was a Saturday night well spent. My main takeaway was the incredible support for the club. A Saturday night in September, the middle of the MLS Season, two teams toward the bottom of the standings, and the atmosphere felt like a championship game. From start to finish, the electricity in the stadium was off the charts. Austin is home to nearly one million residents, many of which have longed for a professional sports franchise for years. Those days of waiting and hoping have come to a close, and they haven’t taken it for granted whatsoever. The success of the club hasn’t exactly been on the field, but has been with this incredible and loyal fan base. The fan base, experience and support for Austin FC has been absolutely incredible in their inaugural season. If this experience with soccer is any indication, there may be reason to hope this may just be the beginning of professional sports in Austin.