Some pretty big news dropped last week. Buried under the rightly encouraging news about Columbus was the clearest message yet from Major League Soccer about the future of Austin’s place in the top-flight league.
On the anniversary of the infamous Grant Wahl tweet breaking the news that the investor-operator of the Columbus Crew SC was considering a relocation to Austin (despite us predicting it nine months earlier), there’s a lot to think about — and hope for the future.
The Road Less Traveled
But first, a quick look at the past. Amidst yet another record-setting flood event in Central Texas, it’s hard not to explore one of the valleys in this saga — the 2015 Memorial Day Floods. That was the point when our Austin Aztex, recently upgraded to Division III USL status and in its first season as an affiliate of Columbus Crew SC (yep), were forced out of House Park and into temporary housing in Round Rock. With no home for the 2016 season, the team went into hiatus — one that would eventually become permanent.
Less than five years after the original Aztex moved to Orlando to become Orlando City SC, Austin was without professional soccer again.
The Tweet Heard ‘Round The Soccerverse
The news broke late at night on October 16th, 2017. Some of us were traveling on business, some settling in for a late night of FIFA, and some preparing for class tomorrow. Most, however, were getting ready for bed — it was, after all, just a regular old Monday.
Then, the tweet.
Then, the SI.com story.
That moment, it could be said, was the unexpected, shaky genesis of Austin FC — not that we knew it at the time. Our club, once a dream, became a very real possibility through a tweet.
After that there was no sleep for awhile. The questions were many. What does this mean? Would MLS really move the Crew to Austin? Would they be able to do something that quickly? Where would they play in Austin? What do we, as a group, need to do or say?
The excitement of potentially having an MLS team to call our own eventually leveled out, but it never faded. Not by the craziness of Twitter outrage from Ohio and elsewhere, not by the absurdity of Austin politics, and not by the bemusing insanity of MLS itself.
How Everyone Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Austin FC
Now, back to the present. Word was leaked on Friday — presumably by the Columbus Partnership — that the owners of the Cleveland Browns, the Haslam family from Tennessee, were in negotiations to purchase the Columbus Crew SC and keep them in Ohio. As part of that arrangement, Precourt Sports Ventures, the current investor-operator of Crew SC, would be the new investor-operator of an Austin club no later than 2021.
While Austin Anthem is, of course, the first supporters group for Austin’s MLS franchise, we are all soccer fans, too. We’ve been fortunate to see the impact the beautiful game can have on our communities, and we have been fortunate to meet so many Texans who share that passion. As an organization, we’ve repeatedly stated that we hoped both Austin and Columbus ended up with a team, and that a new rivalry could begin over our shared struggle for MLS soccer in our cities. However, the reality was that all data pointed to an “either/or” scenario, and not a “both” scenario, for our cities until a week ago.
From Austin, With Love
Now, it becomes clear: Columbus’ path to new ownership lies in the success of Austin FC. PSV is not going to relinquish their rights in Columbus to a new investor-operator until the deal is fully closed with the City of Austin, and MLS signs off. All signs point to the legal negotiations going smoothly, but as has been the case for quite some time, Columbus’ destiny is in Austin’s hands.
Not everyone will accept that, nor will they need to. Keyboard warriors will be keyboard warriors, after all.
Despite the triumphant trumpets blaring from Columbus, Friday’s news is just as significant for Austin, if not more. It’s the first time MLS talked about Austin as a certainty instead of a possibility. In fact, “Austin” was referenced more times than “Columbus”.
The impact to Austin is that it is now a stretch to have a team in 2019, though Monday’s Austin American-Statesman story still keeps that door open.
2020 is still quite possible.
A team playing 2021 at the new stadium at McKalla Place is a near certainty.
Waiting another year is a small delay in the grand scheme of things and, we think, absolutely worth it if another city gets to keep its club. When we started out as MLS in Austin in 2013, our goal was a club by 2022, so we’re still ahead of projections. Our club will also have that “new team smell,” and not have the history of Columbus as a topic for Taylor Twellman to banter about on a Sunday afternoon MLS broadcast in a decade.
Dude, Where’s My Answer?
Why should I pay money and commit to being active in a supporters group that possibly won’t have a team for over two years?
Most people follow a club that’s been around for decades —some more than a century. This is one of those rare opportunities where you get to look back and say you were there at the beginning and created the traditions that generations from now will follow.
In two years or less, we are going to have a supporters section with over 3,000 seats to fill with fans from all over Central Texas — our supporters section. In order to make that happen, we will use every possible hour to build a stronger supporters group, and a stronger foundation for our club.
What are y’all going to do for two years?
We’re going to continue to promote soccer in Austin, and start building something great. We’ll plan trips to other MLS matches across the country, give back to our community, and become an integral part of the Central Texas sports fabric. As many of you know, we’re working with soccer partners throughout the community to promote the sport in our city, and we’re only going to increase the tempo from here.
How can I join Austin Anthem?
Make sure you’re signed up for our newsletter — the totally free signup makes you an Austin Anthem member. On November 4th, we’ll host our first ever volunteer event, where you can come out and meet the organizational team, and tell us how you’d like to get involved. Austin is a diverse community with an extraordinary skill set, and we need your talents to help us out. Stay tuned to our social accounts (and obviously, the newsletter) to find out when and where it’s going to be.
Where’s the merch and SG kits?
Coming with the new website. We are working as fast as we can to get membership kits and new merchandise available to everyone, but we don’t want you to give us your money until we can get you your merchandise in a timely fashion. You’ve entrusted us to be the leading voice for Major League Soccer in Austin, and we intend to continue earning that trust.
When’s the new website coming?
Soon. We’ll announce it on our social accounts. And be sure to bookmark austinanthem.org.